Brain scans & bullying

It appears some bullies literally feel better when viewing others suffering. "Brain scans of teens with a history of aggressive bullying behavior suggest that they may actually get pleasure out of seeing someone else in pain," Reuters cites researchers at the University of Chicago as finding. Though unsurprising to victims of bullying, probably, the finding is not actually what the researchers expected. "The prevailing view" is that bullies are "cold and unemotional," while this indicates that they actually "care very much" about the impact of their behavior, they told Reuters. For the first time, the researchers used fMRI to watch the brain activity in eight 16-to-18-year-olds with aggressive conduct disorder while showing them "video clips of someone inflicting pain on another person." They did the same with a control group of eight teens with no aggression problems. "In the aggressive teens, areas of the brain linked with feeling rewarded – the amygdala and ventral striatum – became very active when they observed pain being inflicted on others. But they showed little activity in an area of the brain involved in self-regulation – the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction – as was seen in the control group." What this indicates, as eScience News put it, is that "some aggressive youths' natural empathetic impulse may be disrupted in ways that increase aggression." The researchers told Reuters their study – entitled "Atypical Empathetic Responses in Adolescents with Aggressive Conduct Disorder: A functional MRI Investigation" and appearing in the journal Biological Psychology – wasn't conclusive; a larger one is needed. [This just in: a New York Times blog post about this study, with interesting reader comments following it.]

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