Analysis of data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a large longitudinal study in New Zealand, showed that participants with a history of antisocial behavior had a faster pace of biological aging. When these individuals reached the calendar age of 45, they were, on average, 4.3 years older biologically than those with lower levels of antisocial behaviour. The study has been published in International journal of environmental and public health research.
Antisocial behavior refers to actions that consistently violate social norms, disregard the rights of others, and often involve a lack of empathy or remorse. It involves behaviors such as deception, aggression, stealing, violence, lying, and other harmful, manipulative, or exploitative behaviors toward others.
Antisocial behavior is usually associated with young people. This type of behavior begins between the ages of 8 and 14, peaks between the ages of 15 and 19, and usually becomes less frequent between the ages of 20 and 29. Although it becomes less common with age, it appears to have a lasting negative impact on health. Studies have shown that individuals who exhibit antisocial behaviors in their youth tend to have worse health outcomes as adults than their peers.
Another study found that individuals who had behavioral problems in their youth used a higher level of healthcare services as adults. In addition, individuals with a history of criminal convictions are more likely to die prematurely than those without such a history.
The researchers in this study, led by Stephanie Langevin, wanted to understand the possible causes behind these common health problems in people with a history of antisocial behavior. They hypothesized that individuals who displayed antisocial behavior in their youth may also show signs of accelerated aging by middle age. In other words, they may age faster than their peers. With this in mind, the researchers decided to investigate the biological age of individuals with a history of antisocial behaviour.
When we talk about age in everyday conversation, we are referring to calendar or chronological age, which is the number of years since birth. By contrast, biological age refers to an individual’s level of physiological and functional well-being. It takes into account factors such as genes, lifestyle choices, and general health to assess the condition of the body and its systems. Biological age can be measured using various biomarkers and physiological parameters, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, lung function, hormone levels, immune system function, and telomere length.
To explore the possible link between a history of antisocial behavior and biological age, the researchers analyzed data from the Dunedin Interdisciplinary Health and Development Study. This study followed 1037 participants born between April 1972 and March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand. Participants were assessed several times starting at the age of 3 years, with the final assessment taking place when they were 45 years old. Researchers collected data through interviews, exams, formal records, and questionnaires completed by parents, teachers, and peers.
In this study, the researchers divided the participants into four groups based on their levels of antisocial behavior throughout their lives. The groups were: life-long antisocial behavior persistent (those who displayed lifelong antisocial behavior), adolescence-limited life course, childhood-limited, and low antisocial behavior. Antisocial behaviors considered in the study included physical fighting, bullying, destroying property, lying, stealing, being absent from work or being chronically absent from work.
The researchers assessed biological age using 19 different biomarkers collected at ages 26, 32, 38, and 45. These biomarkers included measurements such as body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, lung function, liver function, gum health, and various other factors. They also analyzed data on social hearing (the ability to hear in noisy environments), balance, walking speed, visual contrast sensitivity, cognitive ability (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-IV), and facial age (assessed by a panel of 8 assessors). , another measure of biological age that depends on the DNA methylation algorithm and a number of other factors. They matched and compared these assessments conducted in adulthood with the same or similar assessments conducted when the participants were children.
The results showed that participants in the low antisocial behavior life path group had an average age of 0.95 biological years per calendar year. In contrast, all other groups of antisocial behavior progressed faster. Limited antisocial behavior groups in childhood and adolescence with an age of 1.03 biological years per calendar year.
The lifelong antisocial behavior group, which had the highest levels of lifelong antisocial behavior, aged the fastest. Their age was 1.17 biological years per calendar year. By age 45, this accelerated aging amounted to 4.3 additional years of biological aging compared to the life path group with antisocial behaviour. At age 45, the lifelong antisocial course group showed impairment of social hearing and balance, slow walking speed, and decreased cognitive functioning. The only measure they did not encounter in middle age was visual contrast sensitivity.
The link between antisocial behavior and accelerated aging persisted even after accounting for factors such as poor childhood health, socioeconomic status, health in adulthood, and other variables. When face age was considered, individuals with antisocial behavior over the course of life were also rated as being older.
The researchers concluded, “The results of this cohort study indicate that the course of lifelong antisocial behaviors is associated with accelerated aging in midlife, years before the onset of age-related diseases.” “Monitoring individuals who engage in antisocial behaviors for signs of accelerated aging may have the potential to reduce health disparities and improve the lives of offenders. Furthermore, study findings suggest that health promotion programs based in juvenile and adult detention centers that target health-risk behaviors Modifiable measures may have the potential to prevent offenders from becoming users of high-cost, high-need health services.”
The study makes an important contribution to the scientific understanding of the links between aging and behavior. However, it also has limitations that must be taken into account. Notably, all study participants were New Zealanders from one settlement and all were born within one year. Studies of individuals from other cultures and birth groups may not yield equal results.
The paper, “Persistent Life Cycle Antisocial Behavior and Accelerated Biological Aging in a Longitudinal Birth Cohort,” was authored by Stephanie Langevin, Ashalom Caspe, JC Barnes, Grace Brennan, Richie Bolton, Susan C Purdy, Sandhya Ramrakha, Peter T. Tanksley, Peter R Thorne, Graham Wilson, and Terry E. Moffitt.