Dynamics of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) are hypothesized to play a role in the emergence of interpersonal violence. In the present study, we examined continuous activities of the inhibitory parasympathetic pathway of the ANS through the root mean square of successive differences between normal heartbeats (RMSSD) in 22 male offenders who committed interpersonal violence and 24 matched controls from the general population across three successive phases: resting baseline, while performing an emotional Go/No-Go task, and post-task recovery. Results showed that across the three phases, the offender group presented lower RMSSD at baseline (pFDR =.003; Cohen’s d = − 1.11), but similar levels during the task, attributed to a significant increase in their RMSSD level (pFDR =.027, Cohen’s d = − 1.26). During recovery, while no distinction between the two groups was found, both groups showed signs of recovering toward baseline values. These findings suggest that violent incarcerated offenders can flexibly engage parasympathetic resources to meet environmental challenges. This underscores the necessity of considering parasympathetic dynamics and its respective mobilization/flexibility to better understand ANS profiles underlying interpersonal violence as well as its potential utility in designing more tailored interventions.
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