What does heart rate tell us about psychopathy?

Causes of Antisocial Traits Read more from
Chapter Forensic Psychology

We may be able to distinguish psychopathic individuals from impulsiveaggressive individuals by measuring their heartbeat when they are angry. In an important 1995 study by John Gottman and colleagues, 61 wife batterers were divided into two groups according to their heart rate during disagreements with their wives. One group showed lowered heart rates during the disagreement, while the heart rates of the other group went up. In other words, the first group became less aroused during the disagreement rather than more aroused.

Compared to the second group, however, the low-heart-rate men displayed more verbal aggression and anger during the discussion, while their wives showed more sadness and possibly more fear. Further, more of these men had a history of violence outside the family and of witnessing domestic violence as children. Finally, they scored higher on measures of antisocial and aggressive-sadistic personality disorder than the high-heart-rate men. In sum, the low-heart-rate batterers looked more typically psychopathic, while the high-heart-rate batterers looked more impulsive-aggressive.


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