Thursday, December 3, 2009
Some recent research arguably finds a relationship between toddlers' fear reactions and their propensity to commit crimes as adults. The research suggests that toddlers with weaker fear reactions to a noisy blare are more likely to grow up and commit crimes than toddlers with more typical fear reactions. New Scientist summarizes the experiment:
. . . Raine and colleague Yu Gao turned to data from a 1970s study, collected as part of a decades-long project to understand the biological and environmental factors underlying mental illness.
Back then, researchers led by Raine's former research supervisor had measured the sweat response of about 1800 3-year-olds in Mauritius when they were exposed to two different sounds. One sound was always followed by a noisy blare, the other by nothing. The children learned to anticipate which sound preceded the blare, and sweated in response to it – an indicator of fear.
Decades later, Raine's own team looked to see if any of the subjects had criminal records and found 137 that did. The team discovered that, as toddlers, these people had sweated significantly less in anticipation of the blare compared with subjects of similar race, gender and background for whom no criminal record was found.
This very interesting research is, of course, quite preliminary. The article cautions as follows:
However, numerous children who showed muted responses to fearful cues never fell foul of the law, Raine says. "Is this a throw-away-the-key approach to criminals? Absolutely not," he says.
Raine emphasises that environment can make someone less likely to commit a crime. He points to other studies from his team, also based on data from Mauritius, which indicate that manipulating a child's surroundings with improved nutrition, more exercise and cognitive stimulation, can reduce the chance they will commit a crime later on in life.