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Develcpmental Psychology Copyright 1996 by ihc American Psychological Association, Inc.

!996. Vol. 32. No. 4. 624-630 0012-1649/96/S3.00

Better Autonomic Conditioning and Faster Electrodermal

Half-Recovery Time at Age 15 Years as Possible Protective
Factors Against Crime at Age 29 Years
Adrian Raine Peter H. Venables
University of Southern California York University

Mark Williams
Home Office Prison Department, London
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This prospective study tests the hypothesis that antisocial adolescents who desist from adult crime
show better classical conditioning and faster skin conductance half-recovery times al age 15 com-
pared with antisocial adolescents who go on to become adult criminals at age 29. Measures were
assessed in 101 unselected 15-year-old male school children. Of these, 17 antisocial adolescents
who desisted from adult crime (desistors) were matched with 17 antisocial adolescents who became
criminal by age 29 (criminals) and 17 nonantisocial noncriminals (controls). Desistors had signifi-
cantly better conditioning and faster recovery times than both criminals and controls. These initial
findings suggest that better conditioning and enhanced information processing to emotion-relevant
events may constitute biological protective factors against crime development.

Classical conditioning represents one relatively influential wards, and empirical tests of this relationship have been almost
psychological theory of antisocial and criminal behavior. exclusively on punishment UCSs.
Eysenck (1977) and Eysenck and Gudjonsson (1989) have ar- In a review of 14 studies of various antisocial populations that
gued that the development of a strong conscience is critical to have tested this prediction by Hare (1978), 12 indicated that
the development of socialized behavior. It is suggested that a those with antisocial behavior showed poorer skin conductance
conscience can be viewed as a set of classically conditioned emo- conditioning than control groups. Studies conducted since 1978
tional responses, with the ability to form associations between have recently been reviewed by Raine (1993); all six studies
a signal of punishment (conditional stimulus [CS]) and the of those with antisocial behavior obtained significant results
punishment itself (unconditional stimulus [UCS]) as essential indicating poorer skin conductance conditioning in antisocial
to the development of anticipatory fear. It is this conditioned groups (psychopaths, criminals, and conduct-disordered
anticipatory fear that, it is argued, provides the incentive for children). Although conditioning is clearly only one of many
individuals to avoid antisocial stimuli that are associated with factors that predispose a person to crime, there appears to be
punishment. Individual differences in conditionability are relatively good empirical support for this theory.
viewed as essential to conscience development; the greater the In contrast to studies that look at biological risk factors for
individual's ability to develop classically conditioned emotional crime, there has not, to our knowledge, been any study of bio-
responses, the greater the conscience development, and the logical factors that may protect a predisposed individual from
lower the probability of becoming antisocial. One prediction becoming criminal. Indeed, surprisingly little is known about
stemming from this conditioning theory therefore is that crim- factors that protect against crime (Reiss & Roth, 1993). Of par-
inals will be relatively poorer at developing classically condi- ticular interest is that subgroup of individuals who are antiso-
tioned emotional responses. The focus of this theory has been cial in adolescence but who do not go on to manifest criminal
on classical conditioning to punishments rather than to re- behavior in adulthood. Moffitt (1993), in an important devel-
opmental taxonomic perspective on antisocial behavior, has re-
ferred to these antisocial individuals as adolescent-limited in
comparison with life-course persistent criminals. It is possible
Adrian Raine, Department of Psychology, University of Southern that this adolescent-limited subgroup of antisocial individuals
California, Los Angeles; Peter H. Venables, Department of Psychology, differ psychophysiologically to other life-course persistent anti-
York University, York, England; Mark Williams, Home Office Prison social individuals who become criminal, and that such differ-
Department, London, England. ences could give clues as to what factors serve to protect vulner-
This research was conducted with the support of a Research Scientist able individuals against crime.
Development Award (K02 MH01114-01) and a research grant (ROI
MH46435-02) awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The present analysis makes use of a prospective longitudinal
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to study of crime (Raine, Venables, & Williams, 1990) to test
Adrian Raine, Department of Psychology, S.G.M. Building, University hypotheses concerning the characteristics of antisocial adoles-
of Southern California, Los Angeles. California 90089-1061. cents who desist from crime in adulthood. In these participants,

we have recently found that high levels of arousal and orienting Table 1
protect against the development of crime (Raine, Venables, & Means and Standard Deviations on Antisocial and
Williams, 1995). In the context of classical conditioning theory, Demographic Matching Variables for the Three Groups
it is hypothesized that adolescents with antisocial behavior who
do not go on to become adult criminals may in part be pro- Desistors Controls Criminals
tected from such an outcome by virtue of better conditionabil-
Measure M SD M SD M SD
ity compared with those who go on to become criminal.
A second psychcphysiological theory of crime first proposed A nli social
by Mednick (1975, 1977) argues that fast dissipation of fear Teacher ratings 3.4 2.5 0.2 0.6 3.8 4.4
Self-report 1.0 2.1 -1.0 1.7 1.1 2.0
following an aversive event represents a powerful reinforcer that
helps a child desist from committing antisocial responses. This Social class 3.2 1.4 3.3 1.2 3.4 1.1
theory predicts that antisocial individuals will be characterized Area of residence 1.3 0.5 1.4 0.5 1.4
by slow fear dissipation, a process which Mednick argued is in- School status 1.7 0.6 1.7 0.7 1.6 0.6
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Age 14.5 0.5 14.8 0.4 14.8 0.4

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dexed by skin conductance half-recovery time to an aversive

stimulus (the time it takes a skin conductance response gener-
ated by an aversive event to recover to half of its amplitude).
Alternatively, others have suggested that fast skin conductance
and do not include trivial offenses such as traffic offenses. Consequently,
half-recovery time reflects an open attentional stance to the en-
the definition of criminality status is relatively strict. Offenses ranged in
vironment (e.g., Hare, 1978; Venables, 1987), although both severity from theft to wounding, with the most common offenses being
these theoretical interpretations have been disputed (Edelberg, burglary and theft. Seven of the 17 had been imprisoned at some point
1993; Fowles, 1993). In a review of studies conducted up to in time following psychophysiological testing.
1977, Mednick (1977) found that all three studies that had
measured skin conductance half-recovery time observed sig-
Participant Groupings
nificantly longer recovery times in delinquents, criminals, and
psychopaths. Results from eight more studies conducted since Three participant groups were drawn from the total sample of 101.
this date have recently been reviewed by Raine (1993); only one The first group, criminals, consisted of the 17 participants who were
of these studies, conducted on psychopaths (Raine & Venables, registered for criminal offending. The second group, desistors, consisted
1988), failed to find significantly longer skin conductance half- of 17 participants matched as closely as possible with this first group on
(a) self-report and teacher ratings of antisocial behavior and personality
recovery times in criminals and antisocial children. Alterna-
measured at age 15 years when psychophysiological testing was con-
tively, no study has been conducted on antisocial children who
ducted, (b) age, (c) social cl ass. (d) area of residence, and (e) academic
desist from later crime. The present study tests the hypothesis level. Although the focus of this study concerns comparisons between
that such desistors will be characterized by fast skin conduc- desistors and criminals, a third group, controls, was also included con-
tance half-recovery times to an aversive event as compared with sisting of 17 participants who (a) were neither criminal as adults nor
criminals who will be characterized by slow half-recovery time. antisocial as adolescents and (b) were matched as closely as possible to
the other two groups on demographic variables. The social class of the
entire cohort of 101 was 3.02 (SD = 1.3).
Method Full details of the teacher and self-report ratings of antisocial behavior
and personality are given in Raine, Roger, and Venables (1982). In
Participants brief, teacher ratings of antisocial behavior were based on the Unsocial-
ized-Psychopathic subscale of the Behavior Problem Checklist (Quay &
Participants consisted of 101 fifteen-year-old male schoolchildren
Parsons, 1970). Self-report antisocial personality was based on a com-
(range = 14-16 years) from three schools in a city in northern England.
posite of standardized scores from four measures selected because they
School A was a secondary modern school (taking academically poorer
gave the highest loadings on a factor analysis of a larger number of such
children), School B was a grammar school (taking academically better
scales (Raine et al., 1982); these scales consisted of the Unsodalized-
children), and School C was a comprehensive (unselected) school. We
Psychopathic, Neurotic-Disturbed, and Subcultural-Delinquent scales
sampled participants from these three schools (31%, 14%, and 55%,
of the Personal Opinion Study (Quay & Parsons, 1970) and the Social-
respectively) to obtain a representative cross-section of children in
ization scale of the California Personality Inventory (Gough, 1969).
terms of academic and social background. The catchment area for
School A was largely lower- and middle-working-class neighborhoods, Results of this matching process are shown in Table 1. Analyses of
for School B residential and rural neighborhoods, and for School C variance and Mest comparisons confirmed that criminals and desistors
mixed neighborhoods- Written informed consent was obtained from did not differ on levels of antisocial behavior at age 15 (/? > .73),
parents and participants. whereas both groups had significantly higher teacher and self-report rat-
ings of antisocial behavior than controls (p < .002 and p < .004,
respectively). The three groups did not differ on social class (assessed
Criminal Status using the Office of Populations Census and Survey's Classification of
Occupations; p > .60), school status (reflecting academic ability level;
Participants underwent psychophysiological testing during the period p > .78), area of residence (high or low crime area; p > .52), or age (/?
1978-1979. A computerized search was made in May 1993 at the cen-
tral Criminal Records Office in London when the participants were 29
years of age. Only participants found guilty and sentenced at court were
classified as criminal. Seventeen of the 101 participants were found to Psychophysiological Recording
possess a criminal record. Crimes recorded in the Criminal Records Conditioning stimuli. The CS consisted of a pure tone of 1000 Hz
Office are synonymous with "serious" offending (Farrington, 1983) frequency, 10 s duration. 25 ms rise and fall time, and 65 dB intensity.

The UCS consisted of a 1000 Hz tone of 1 s duration, 10 ms rise and response type) repeated measures multivariate analysis of vari-
fall time, and 105 dB intensity. A 66% partial reinforcement schedule ance (MANOVA; Vasey & Thayer, 1987) was used to analyze A
was used with 15 presentations of the CS randomly reinforced on 10 and B conditioned skin conductance responses recorded from
occasions with the UCS (see Raine & Venables, 1981, for further details left and right hands. A main effect for group, F{ 2,43) = 3.5, p <
and rationale). The intertrial interval was randomized with a mean of
.04, indicated that groups differed overall on conditioning (see
42 s( range = 34-50 s).
Figure 1). Because there were no significant interactions be-
Tones were generated by an Exact Model 129 function generator with
intensity controlled by a Grason-Stadler Model 1284 programmable tween group and either hand or conditioned response type (p
attenuator. The timing of the stimuli was preprogrammed on paper > .48), we collapsed measures across hands and conditioned
tape. Grason-Stadler electronic switches controlled rise and fall times, response type and conducted two-tailed orthogonal planned
with the signal amplified by an audio amplifier. Stimulus intensity was comparisons. These indicated that desistors had more condi-
calibrated using a Bruel and Kjaer Type 2203 sound-level meter in con- tioned responses (M= 7.9,SD= 3.6) compared with criminals
junction with a Bruel and Kjaer type 4153 artificial ear. Stimuli were (M = 4.5, SD = 4.1, p < .03). Desistors also showed a trend
delivered binaurally to the participant over a pair of Telephonies TDH- toward significantly greater conditioning compared with con-
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39P headphones. White noise at 52 dB (provided by the audio trols (A/ = 5.5, SD = 2.6,p< .053).
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amplifier) was used to mask out extraneous sounds.

Skin conductance recording. Bilateral skin conductance was mea-
sured from bipolar leads on the medial phalanges of the second and Skin Conductance Half-Recovery Time
third fingers using Beckman silver-silver chloride electrodes and 0.5%
potassium chloride (KC1) in 2% agar-agar as electrolyte. The effective Results revealed that desistors had significantly faster half-
skin area in contact with the electrolyte was delineated by a double- recovery times than criminals. A 3 (group) X 2 (hand)
sided adhesive mask with a hole 0.45 cm in diameter. Electrodes were MANOVA indicated a main effect for group, F(2,42) = 6.6, p
attached to the fingers using Sleek adhesive tape. Both channels were < .003, indicating significant group differences in overall half-
recorded using a Grass Model 7D polygraph. A constant-voltage system
(Venables & Christie, 1973) was used in configuration with Grass 7P1
recovery times (see Figure 2). Because all other effects and in-
preamplifiers and 7DA driver amplifiers. The gain was set at 0.1 mV/ teractions in the MANOVA were nonsignificant {p > .73), we
cm and the high frequency cutoffs at 75 Hz. Amplification allowed iden- collapsed measures across hands and conducted two-tailed or-
tification of all skin conductance responses > 0.05 microsiemens thogonal planned comparisons. These indicated that desistors
(equivalent to a pen deflection of 0.5 mm with a chart speed of 25mm/ (M - 2.3, SD - 0.8) had significantly faster skin conductance
s). All data for the right hand were complete, although technical prob- half-recovery times than both criminals {M = 5.4, SD = 3.9; p
lems with recording on the left hand led to missing data for 5 partici- <.006) and controls(M= 3.1,5/)= 1.2;p<.03).
pants (2 desistors, 2 criminals, and 1 control).
Derived skin conductance conditioning and half recovery-time mea-
sures. Previous studies reviewed by Raine (1993) have focused on skin Responding to Aversive Stimuli
conductance responses occurring to the CS (termed the conditioned
"A" response orfirst-intervalresponse; Biferno & Dawson, 1977) and To assess whether groups differed with respect to their level
the anticipatory skin conductance response occurring between the CS of responding to aversive tones, we conducted a MANOVA on
and UCS (the conditioned "B" response or second-interval response; frequency of left- and right-hand skin conductance responses to
Biferno & Dawson, 1977). Consequently, these two conditioned re- the UCS. Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) were
sponses were the focus of this study. Latency windows for scoring these as follows: for left hand, controls = 8.8 (0.5), desistors = 8.5
responses were 1-3 s post-CS for the A response and 6-10.5 s post-CS (1.1), and criminals - 8.1 (2.3); for right hand, controls = 8.8
for the B response (Prokasy & Kumpfer, 1973). Dependent variables
consisted of the frequency of conditioned A and B responses.
(0.7), desistors = 8.6 (0.8), and criminals = 8.1 (2.3). The
main effect for group was nonsignificant, F(2, 43) - 1.00, p >
Skin conductance half-recovery time (Venables & Christie, 1973) was
measured to the 10 aversive stimuli. Half-recovery times were averaged
.36, as were all other main effects and interactions (p > .33),
across responses to all aversive stimuli to obtain a mean skin conduc- indicating that groups did not differ significantly in their level
tance half-recovery time for both left and right hands. of responsivity to aversive stimuli.

Individuals were tested in a light- and sound-attenuated laboratory Discussion
room held at a temperature of approximately 21 *C. Participants were
familiarized with the equipment, electrode application, and general na- Results provide some initial support for the view that profi-
ture of the experiment. After electrode application, the participant was cient classical conditioning and faster skin conductance half-
seated, asked to get into as comfortable and relaxed a position as possi- recovery time may represent protective factors against the de-
ble, and instructed to keep his eyes open throughout the experiment. He velopment of crime in individuals predisposed to this outcome
was then told that a 3-inin period would follow when nothing at all by virtue of showing antisocial behavior in adolescence. These
would happen, after which he would hear a series of intermittent soft appear to be among the first findings to implicate biological
and loud tones. Headphones were then placed on the participant, and variables as possible protective factors against crime. Effect
the sequence was initiated. sizes observed in this study are relatively large. The average
Results effect size for conditioning was 0.81, whereas the average effect
size for half-recovery time was 1.3. These effect sizes exceed the
Conditioning value of 0.80, which is described by Cohen (1988) as "large,"
Results indicated significantly better conditioning in desistors and exceed many effect sizes observed in crime research.
than in criminals. A 3 (group) X 2 (hand) X 2 (conditioned The strength of these effects may be attributable to the fact



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Figure 1. Frequency of classically conditioned type A and type B skin conductance (SC) responses, illus-
trating significantly better conditioning in desistors compared with both criminals and controls.

that a recent review of all forms of skin conductance activity ticular relevance to theories of crime involving the processing
identified conditioning and half-recovery time as showing the of emotion-related stimuli. Alternatively, it is of interest that
strongest links with criminal behavior (Raine, 1993). Effect both conditioning and fear recovery theories are essentially ex-
sizes may also be strong because skin conductance is one of the planations of good (not poor) socialization processes (i.e., how
best and most frequently used measure of autonomic nervous children learn to desist from antisocial responses), and as such
system (ANS) activity, and because ANS activity is intimately they may be particularly relevant to explaining desistence from
involved in emotions such as fear and anxiety, it may be of par- adult crime. We caution, however, that independent replication





Figure2. Skin conductance half-recovery times to aversive stimuli, illustrating significantly faster recovery
times in desistors compared with both criminals and controls.

and extension in future longitudinal studies is nevertheless re- On the one hand, some researchers such as Venables and
quired before strong conclusions are drawn. Fletcher (1981), Janes, Strock, Weeks, and Worland (1985),
Good conditioning, fast fear dissipation, and open attenlional Boucsein (1992), and Levander, Schalling, Lidberg, Bartfai,
stance may protect against criminal behavior because they help and Lidberg (1980) view skin conductance half-recovery as a
facilitate the development of learning processes (specifically, potentially informative measure of information processing that
classical conditioning and passive avoidance learning) that have is largely independent of skin conductance amplitude. On the
been theoretically viewed as underpinning the process of social- other hand, Fowles (1993) has argued that group differences in
ization (Eysenck, 1977; Mednick, 1977). Such an advanta- skin conductance recovery can be attributed to differences in
geous psychophysiological profile does not, however, explain skin conductance activity, and Edelberg (1993) has similarly
why desistors were antisocial in adolescence. It seems feasible provided a critical analysis of the status of skin conductance
that this subgroup were predisposed to antisocial behavior for half-recovery. Although the theoretical interpretation of skin
more transient, nonbiological reasons, such as negative peer in- conductance half-recovery is debatable, the repeated empirical
fluences (Blumstein, Cohen, Roth, & Visher, 1986), which may links between antisocial and criminal behavior that have been
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not carry over into adulthood. A biosocial approach would sug- shown in previous studies (see Raine, 1993, for a review) sug-
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gest an interaction between biological processes and social pro- gest this measure is worthy of further empirical research.
cesses. For example, Moffitt (1993) argued that antisocial be- In contrast to conditioning and half-recovery time, groups
havior during adolescence is actually normative social behavior did not differ in their responsivity to the aversive stimulus itself.
arising as a response to the contemporary secular context. It Although it has been suspected that criminals and psychopaths
is conceivable that good conditioners are well-behaved in the are less responsive to aversive stimuli, a recent review of these
prevailing prosocial environments they experience in early de- findings has indicated that six out of eight studies fail to observe
velopment, but they may for a temporary period become easily group differences (Raine, 1993). When these previous data are
conditioned into the antisocial mores that predominate only taken together with the present findings, it does not seem that
during adolescence (Moffitt, 1993). A change back to a proso- enhanced conditioning in desistors compared with criminals is
cial life norm in early adulthood when the participant leaves attributable to increased responsivity to the UCS, but rather
these antisocial peer influences (e.g., starting work, setting up a may reflect enhanced cognitive ability, specifically, the ability to
home) may see a return to prosocial behavior in the good con- learn associations between events in time.
ditioner. Moffitt also argued that adolescent-limited antisocial
behavior may be more under the control of reinforcement and Although the focus of this article concerned comparisons be-
punishment contingencies; heightened classical condition abil- tween desistors and other groups, comparisons between crimi-
ity in the desistor group may in turn make this adolescent sub- nals and controls are also of interest. As would be predicted
group particularly susceptible to prevailing reinforcement from the strong empirical support for longer half-recovery times
schedules. in criminals and antisocials (Raine, 1993), the criminal group
had significantly longer half-recovery times than the controls,
One potentially important implication of the present findings with a strong effect size of 0.9 (Cohen, 1988). In contrast,
is that, by making use of psychophysiological measures such as groups did not differ on classical conditioning, although the
those outlined earlier, one can increase the explanatory power effect size of 0.3 was in the predicted direction of poorer condi-
of psychosocial risk variables for crime. Not all individuals who tioning in criminals. One explanation for this discrepancy is
possess negative psychosocial risk factors become criminal, and that the sample sizes were too small to detect a small but true
one explanation for these "false positives" may be that such in- group difference in conditioning. A second possibility is that
dividuals are protected from crime by virtue of possessing conditioning relates to crime only in the context of a biosocial
counteracting biological protective factors such as good condi- interaction. For example, there is some evidence that poor con-
tioning and fast fear dissipation. By taking into account such ditioning only characterize antisocials from benign social back-
biological protective factors, the ability of psychosocial factors grounds where the social predisposition to crime is minimized
to predict later criminal behavior may be potentiated. (Eysenck, 1977; Raine & Venables, 1981).
Although Mednick's (1975, 1977) fear dissipation theory of Because official conviction data were used as the outcome
crime receives some support from the present study, caution measure of crime, it is possible that some of the desistors actu-
must be exercised in interpreting these findings. Specifically, ally committed crimes in adulthood but escaped detection, pos-
there is no direct empirical evidence that fast skin conductance sibly because of their high autonomic activity. Such "pseudo-
half-recovery specifically measures fast fear dissipation. An al- desistors" might, however, be expected to have low autonomic
ternative interpretation of fast skin conductance half-recovery activity, and their inclusion in the desistor group would weaken
time is that it reflects attentional processes involving "openness the observed effect of higher autonomic activity in this group.
to the environment" and goal-oriented performance (Venables, Alternatively, pseudodesistors may have a different psychophys-
1974). Such an enhanced information-processing interpreta- iological profile from both true desistors and caught criminals.
tion of the short half-recovery time found in desistors would be In either event, it is important that future studies on protective
consistent with the notion that enhanced cognitive abilities factors should assess both self-report and official measures of
(e.g., high 1Q) have been found to protect against crime crime in order to help further address these possibilities.
(Kandel et al., 1988). Nevertheless, there is considerable debate Although groups were matched on scholastic ability, it is still
as to how skin conductance half-recovery time should be inter- possible that there were group differences in IQ that might have
preted, whether it validly reflects openness to the environment, mediated the psychophysiological differences. This seems un-
and whether it is independent of prior skin conductance activity. likely, however, because IQ and global intelligence factors such

as verbal comprehension and perceptual organization are in psychophysiological variables. It is not inconceivable, for ex-
largely independent of autonomic activity (Clausen & Sersen, ample, that early environmental factors such as stressful life
1983; O'Gorman, 1983; Raine, 1987). Relatedly, we have re- events or child abuse could alter psychophysiological function-
cently found that the heightened skin conductance orienting ing (see Raine, in press, for details on this issue and a heuristic
that characterizes men who desist from crime in spite of having overarching model of antisocial behavior). Future prospective
criminal fathers is not mediated by IQ (Brennan, Raine, & biosocial research should combine measures of familial and ex-
Mednick, 1996), again suggesting that autonomic protective trafamilial environmental variables with biological variables to
factors are independent of IQ. Nevertheless, future studies help resolve this issue.
could usefully measure IQ to further substantiate this
In theoretical terms, the information-processing advantages References
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

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Raine, A., Venables, P. H., & Williams, M. (1990). Relationships be- Revision received July 21,1995
tween central and autonomic measures of arousal at age 15 years and Accepted July 31, 1995