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Keywords:

  • Children;
  • Psychopathology;
  • Autonomic control;
  • Cardiovascular indices

To examine associations between heart period variability (HPV) and psychopathology in young urban boys at risk for delinquency, a series of 69 7–11-year-old younger brothers of adjudicated delinquents received a standardized psychiatric evaluation and an assessment of heart period variability (HPV). Psychiatric symptoms were rated in two domains: externalizing and internalizing psychopathology. Continuous measures of both externalizing and internalizing psychopathology were associated with reductions in HPV components related to parasympathetic activity. These associations could not be explained by a number of potentially confounding variables, such as age, ethnicity, social class, body size, or family history of hypertension. Although familial hypertension predicted reduced HPV and externalizing psychopathology, associations between externalizing psychopathology and HPV were independent of familial hypertension. Psychiatric symptoms are associated with reduced HPV in young urban boys at risk for delinquency.