Low pulse increases risk for reoffending

Sofi Oskarsson

Sofi Oskarsson views the study’s results as a step towards refining risk assessment models.

A low resting heart rate (RHR) is associated with an increased risk of reoffending. This is shown in a new study that examined how blood pressure affects this risk for the first time.
“Pulse rates and blood pressure could play a part in identifying people who are at a higher risk of committing new crimes,” says Sofi Oskarsson, a doctoral student in psychology at Örebro University.

Previous research has shown that individuals with a low resting heart rate have an increased risk of committing crimes. The new study – published in PLOS One – shows that there is also an increased risk of reoffending, that is, a relapse into crime.

Pulse rates and blood pressure data were collected from the Swedish Military Conscription Register for males born between 1958 and 2010 and were linked with the national crime register for convicted males. Analysis shows that risk increased by 23 per cent for reoffending for those with low pulse rates, between 35 and 60 beats per minute.

Also in high-risk occupations

Sofi Oskarsson is, however, careful in interpreting the increased risk:

“This doesn’t mean that if you have a low resting heart rate, you will relapse into crime. But perhaps a low pulse and low blood pressure can be potential predictors in a risk assessment for reoffending, carried out by prison and probation services and within forensic psychiatry.”

Low pulse is already recognised as one attribute linked to individuals committing a crime. A low pulse is common among those who choose high-risk occupations. She mentions bomb detectors as an example and those active in extreme sports like skydiving and bungee jump.

“They seek out situations that raise the heart rate since a low pulse gives them physical discomfort,” she explains.

As a group, people with a low pulse are prone to take risks; the same applies to those who commit crimes. This attribute may mean that traditional treatments for preventing relapsing into crime do not have the desired effect.

“Persons with previous convictions may lack the ability to learn from their experiences. They don’t realise the consequences of their actions or care about being punished,” says Sofi Oskarsson.

Refining risk assessment models

She views the study’s results as a step towards refining risk assessment models.

“An increased risk of 23 per cent provides support for further investigation. Low pulse could be used together with well-established risk factors for reoffending, like a previous criminal record, addiction, marital status and unemployment,” states Sofi Oskarsson.

This study indicates evidence for an increased risk of reoffending for those with a low pulse for the first time in a statistically reliable fashion. The study also shows for the first time that low blood pressure also increases this risk.

“No one has previously researched blood pressure and the risk of reoffending. These results provide us with a broader understanding, but a low pulse rate is more of interest,” says Sofi Oskarsson.

In the study, pulse rate and blood pressure are separate data. Therefore, it is impossible to see if an individual has a low pulse and low blood pressure.

“Other physiological attributes could also be interesting but were not included in the conscription register. One disadvantage of registry-based studies is that research is limited to collected data,” concludes Sofi Oskarsson.

Text and photo: Maria Elisson 
Translation: Jerry Gray