Low resting heart rate and stalking perpetration

Boisvert, D., Wells, J., Armstrong, T., Lewis, R.H., Woeckener, M., & Nobles, M.R. (2020)

Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 35(11-12), 2271 – 2296

Type of Profession:

There is evidence to suggest that individuals with low resting heart rate are more likely to engage in a variety of antisocial behaviors. The present study examines whether this finding can be extended to stalking. It was found that individuals with low resting heart rates had significantly greater odds of engaging in stalking behavior, although this was only true for males, not for females.

Expanded Abstract: 

Recent estimates suggest that 16.2% of women and 5.2% of men living in the U.S. have been stalked at some point in their lives (Black et al., 2011). These prevalence rates, relative to the overall population size, indicate that approximately 20 million women and 6 million men have experienced some form of lifetime stalking victimization. While there is strong empirical evidence to suggest that individuals with low resting heart rate (LRHR) are more likely to engage in a variety of antisocial behaviors (Lorber, 2004; Ortiz & Raine, 2004; Portnoy & Farrington, 2015), the mechanisms underlying this relationship remain largely theoretical, and until now have not included a focus on stalking. Most commonly, LRHR is thought to be associated with antisocial behavior either through a tendency toward fearlessness and/or stimulation-seeking behaviors (Raine, Venables, & Williams, 1990). From the perspective of fearlessness theory, low heart rate is an indicator of low levels of fear, as a function of decreased sensitivity to stressful situations (Raine, 2002b). Decreased sensitivity to stressful situations and an attendant lack of fear of punishment makes socialization more difficult; this in turn interferes with the formation of a conscience. From this position, the fearlessness associated with low heart rate can increase risky or criminal behaviors either directly through a tolerance for fear and stress-inducing aspects of criminal behavior, or through a lack of concern for the consequences of one’s actions toward others. The relationship between LRHR and antisocial behavior including stalking may also be explained by sensation seeking.

Researchers seeking to better understand the factors underlying stalking behaviors have relied primarily on sociological and psychological explanations (Davis et al., 2000; Dutton & Winstead, 2006; Fox, Nobles, & Akers, 2011; McCutcheon et al., 2006; Nobles & Fox, 2013; Patton et al., 2010; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000). Across these different types of explanations, those emphasizing the role of impaired attachment in the etiology of stalking behaviors are most prominent (Miller, 2012), while others have focused on attitudes and beliefs (Fox, Nobles, & Akers, 2011; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000) and aggressiveness (Dutton & Winstead, 2006). To date, there has been little discussion on the biological underpinnings of stalking with the exception of Meloy and Fisher who published a theoretical piece on the neurobiology of stalking.

This study examined the relationship between resting heart rate and stalking perpetration among approximately 500 college students. Results showed a significant difference in stalking by heart rate among males but not females.