The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 19 No. 6 • July 2016


LACK OF SELF-CONTROL (IMPULSIVITY) PREDICTS LIKELIHOOD OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

A very recent paper (Akerlund, 2016) followed 13,606 children for 18 years in a study of time discounting, that is, how much the children valued a sum of money now (about $140 in U.S. dollars) as compared to a larger sum of money (about $1,400 in U.S. dollars) 5 years later.

“Our results show that individuals with short time horizons have a significantly higher risk of criminal involvement later in life.” (Akerlund, 2016) They suggest as the reason that individuals may perceive that the relative costs and benefits of criminal activity involve rewards that “are savored immediately and its potential costs in terms of apprehension and punishment [ ] are borne in the future.”

The study’s authors use the expression “self-control” to describe an individual’s ability to resist impulsively choosing an immediate reward as compared to waiting for a later, larger reward. “... the ability to exercise self-control in the face of opportunity is hypothesized to explain a large portion of criminal behavior.” The researchers found that there is an association between intelligence and crime (being more prevalent in those with low intelligence and especially strongly associated with men of low intelligence) and that “patience [that is, non-impulsivity] among adults is significantly associated with higher cognitive ability.”

They further refer to the famous “marshmallow” experiments where 4-year old children were offered an extra marshmallow if they could delay for fifteen minutes the gratification of immediately eating a marshmallow. Those who waited were later found to have better outcomes in many aspects of their young adult lives, including SAT scores, educational achievement, income, less likelihood of using addictive drugs, and other things. The authors note that similar experiments in adults have found that time preferences (immediate vs. delayed gratification) “are significantly correlated with field outcomes such as occupational choice, credit card borrowing, and smoking.” (Akerlund, 2016)

The experimenters did not report in their paper a link (should there be one) between glucose and engagement in criminal activity and, again, we believe that this would have added to their results by providing a physiological reason for the differences between the impulsive and non-impulsive children. Because the brain requires glucose for self-control (see above), it is plausible that a relative glucose insufficiency in the brain may be a causative factor in the tendency to engage in criminal activity. (A “relative glucose insufficiency” does not necessarily mean that an individual does not consume enough glucose, but that he or she uses glucose inefficiently, as would be the case for insulin resistance.)

Reference

Akerlund, Golsteyn, et al. Time discounting and criminal behavior. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Early edition. 13(22):6160-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1522445113. (2016).

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