Published in Journal Watch Psychiatry.

Lack of fear conditioning at age 3 years may signal future criminality.

According to a neuro-developmental hypothesis, dysfunction in multiple brain regions may be involved in subsequent criminal offenses.

This study investigated the hypothesis that children who poses poor fear conditionings at a young age may be at risk of subsequent criminal behaviour in their adult life.

1,795 children aged 3 years old from Mauritius were tested for their fear-conditioned response. 20 years later their criminal status was compared with these results. Fear conditioning was determined from their response patterns to several tones and a noxious sound.

When the participants reached 23 years of age researchers compared 137 participants who had property, drug, violence, or serious driving offenses with 274 non-criminal participants matched for age, sex, ethnicity, and social adversity (e.g., uneducated parent, single-parent families, separation from parents, overcrowding, poor maternal health).

Unlike the comparison group, the criminal offender group had not shown fear conditioning to the noxious sound at age 3 years.

This may be the first-ever long-term prospective study to show an early deficit in autonomic fear conditioning as a predisposition to adult criminality.

This report does not indicate other possible long-term outcomes in children with deficient fear conditioning.

Early biomarkers of increased criminal risk might enable clinicians and parents to fashion environments that decrease negative outcomes and, perhaps, even enable some of these children to flourish. — Joel Yager, MD

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

SOURCE: Published in Journal Watch Psychiatry. 2010