Unusually aggressive youth may actually enjoy inflicting pain on others, research using brain scans at the University of Chicago shows.
Scans of the aggressive youth's brains showed that an area that is associated with rewards was highlighted when the youth watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. Youth without the unusually aggressive behavior did not have that response, the study showed.
"This is the first time that fMRI scans have been used to study situations that could otherwise provoke empathy," said Jean Decety, Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago. "This work will help us better understand ways to work with juveniles inclined to aggression and violence."
Decety is an internationally recognized expert on empathy and social neuroscience. The new research shows that some aggressive youths' natural empathetic impulse may be disrupted in ways that increase aggression.
The results are reported in the paper "Atypical Empathetic Responses in Adolescents with Aggressive Conduct Disorder: A functional MRI Investigation" in the current issue of the journal Biological Psychology. Benjamin Lahey, Professor of Epidemiology and Psychiatry at the University, co-authored the paper, along with University students Kalina Michaslska and Yuko Akitsuki. The National Science Foundation supported the work.
In the study, researchers compared eight 16- to 18-year-old boys with aggressive conduct disorder to a control group of adolescent boys with no unusual signs of aggression. The boys with the conduct disorder had exhibited disruptive behavior such as starting a fight, using a weapon and stealing after confronting a victim.
The youth were tested with fMRI while looking at video clips in which people endured pain accidentally, such as when a heavy bowl was dropped on their hands, and intentionally, such as when a person stepped on another's foot.
|Contact: William Harms|
University of Chicago