Why antisocial youths are less able to take the perspective of others

March 11, 2014

Adolescents with antisocial personality disorder inflict serious physical and psychological harm on both themselves and others. However, little is yet known about the underlying neural processes. Researchers at the University of Leiden and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development have pinpointed a possible explanation: Their brain regions responsible for social information processing and impulse control are less developed.

The study focused on incarcerated delinquent adolescents from the Netherlands aged between 15 and 21 years who had been diagnosed with an disorder. The researchers had the adolescents play the mini-ultimatum game. In this cooperative game, which simulates fairness considerations, the player is offered a sum of money by another player. The player is also told whether the opponent could have made a fairer offer or had no alternative. Brain activity during the game was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). By comparing the findings with those of a control group of nondelinquent adolescents, the researchers were able to determine what was going on in participants' brains in the context of fairness considerations.

"No" to unfair offers

The delinquent adolescents showed less activation than the control group in the temporoparietal junction and in the . These areas of the brain are responsible for functions including the ability to put oneself in another person's position and . In both groups, the researchers observed similar levels of activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and in the anterior insula – areas of the brain associated with affective processes. The findings indicate that although both groups showed the same levels of emotional reactivity to unfair offers, the delinquent adolescents rejected these offers more often. In contrast to the , they did not take account of their opponent's intention – or of whether their opponent had no alternative.

What do other people think?

Adolescents with thus seem to have difficulties in taking into account all the relevant information in social interactions, such as other people's intentions. The researchers hypothesize that this in turn leads to more antisocial behavior. "Adolescence is a time of multiple physical, neurological, and social changes. This study with adolescents offers us a better understanding of what happens during this sensitive phase and how things can go astray, resulting in the development of antisocial behaviors", says Wouter van den Bos, lead author of the study and researcher in the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. The researchers hope that their findings will help to inform the development of psychotherapeutic treatments.

Explore further: Researchers link sleep deprivation with criminal behavior

More information: Van den Bos, W. et al. Neural correlates of social decision-making in severely antisocial adolescents. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsu003

Related Stories

Psychopathic traits in teenagers not cast in stone

September 19, 2013

Most youths are concerned about other people's feelings, they feel bad or guilty when they have done something wrong and they adhere to social rules. A small group of youths, however, does not. These youths express psychopathic ...

Recommended for you

Imaging technique maps serotonin activity in living brains

October 20, 2016

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's partly responsible for feelings of happiness and for mood regulation in humans. This makes it a common target for antidepressants, which block serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons ...

ALS study reveals role of RNA-binding proteins

October 20, 2016

Although only 10 percent of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases are hereditary, a significant number of them are caused by mutations that affect proteins that bind RNA, a type of genetic material. University of California ...

Overcoming egocentricity increases self-control

October 19, 2016

Neurobiological models of self-control usually focus on brain mechanisms involved in impulse control and emotion regulation. Recent research at the University of Zurich shows that the mechanism for overcoming egocentricity ...

Exercise may help ward off memory decline

October 19, 2016

Exercise may be associated with a small benefit for elderly people who already have memory and thinking problems, according to new research published in the October 19, 2016, online issue of Neurology, a medical journal of ...

Going for a run could improve cramming for exams

October 19, 2016

Ever worried that all the information you've crammed in during a study session might not stay in your memory? The answer might be going for a run, according to a new study published in Cognitive Systems Research.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.