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Abstract

Poor fear conditioning is a correlate of violent offending in adults, but there is no evidence concerning juvenile offenders. Our aim was to compare emotional learning in juvenile offenders and controls and establish whether crime rate is related to seriousness of emotional learning problems. To this end, emotional learning was assessed in 42 juvenile offenders by measuring skin conductance responding (SCR) during fear conditioning. Compared to controls, juvenile offenders showed lower conditioned SCRs to visual stimuli associated with a subsequent aversive stimulus and the magnitude of the SCR during fear acquisition was inversely associated with the number of their recorded offences. These findings suggest that juvenile offenders have impairments in the neural systems that subserve emotional learning. The implication is that using punitive measures to control persistent offenders is unlikely to be effective in an identifiable group of juvenile offenders.