AURORA, Colo (Sept. 22, 2010) Antisocial boys who abuse drugs, break laws, and act recklessly are not just "bad" kids. Many of these boys may have malfunctioning brains, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
"Brain responses to everyday rewards and punishments gradually guide most youngsters' decisions to conform with society's rules. However, when these seriously troubled kids experience rewards and punishments, and make decisions, their brains apparently malfunction," said Thomas Crowley, MD, a professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine and lead author on the study. "Our findings strongly suggest that brain malfunction underlies their frequent failure to conform to rules, to make wise decisions, and to avoid relapses back to drug use and antisocial acts."
The scientists, including collaborators at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Maryland, studied 20 adolescent boys. On average they had been on probation 139 of the last 180 days; 19 of the 20 had the psychiatric diagnosis of conduct disorder, and all had diagnoses of substance use disorder. They had been abstinent, however, an average of about five weeks when studied. They were compared with 20 other boys who did not have serious antisocial or drug problems, but who were of similar age, ethnicity, and home neighborhoods.
All played a computerized risk-taking game that repeatedly presented a choice between a cautious and a risky behavior: press the left button and always win one cent, or press the right button and either win five cents or lose ten cents. The scientists examined brain activation with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as the boys decided to press right or left, and then as they experienced wins or losses after right presses.
Brain activation differed dramatically in the two groups. The anterior cingulate cortex monitors changing rewards and punishments, an
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University of Colorado Denver