Low resting heart rate (RHR) is a consistent biological correlate of antisocial behaviour (ASB), however potential mechanisms have been largely unexplored. We hypothesise that lower RHR will be associated with higher ASB levels in mid-adolescence and persistence into adulthood, and that these associations will be explained, in part, by sensation seeking and callous-unemotional traits.
ASB was assessed repeatedly with young people from ages 15 to 21 years in a population-based birth cohort (ALSPAC). A longitudinal trajectory was derived and showed ASB decreasing across adolescence before stabilising in early adulthood. RHR was recorded at age 12 years, and mediators were assessed at age 14 years.
After adjusting for socio-demographic confounders, there was evidence for a total effect of RHR on ASB levels in mid-adolescence [b(95% CI) = −0.08 (−0.14 to −0.02)], reflecting 0.08 more types of antisocial activity in the last year per 10 fewer heart beats per minute. This effect was almost entirely explained through sensation seeking [b(95% CI) = −0.06 (−0.08 to −0.04)]. After additionally adjusting for child and parent-related confounders, all effects weakened; however, there was still evidence of an indirect effect of RHR, via sensation seeking, on ASB levels in mid-adolescence [b(95% CI) = −0.01 (−0.03 to −0.003)]. There was no evidence for a total effect of RHR on ASB levels in early adulthood, and weak evidence of an indirect effect, via sensation seeking [b(95% CI) = −0.01 (−0.01 to −0.00)].
Lower RHR in childhood was associated with higher ASB levels in mid-adolescence, indirectly via sensation seeking.