Bullies may enjoy seeing others in pain

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.

"The aggressive youth activated the neural circuits underpinning pain processing to the same extent, and in some cases, even more so than the control participants without conduct disorder," Decety said.

"Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed watching pain," he said.

Unlike the control group, the youth with conduct disorder did not activate the area of the brain involved in self-regulation (the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction).

The control group acted similarly to youth in a study released earlier this year, in which Decety and his colleagues used fMRI scans to show 7- to 12-year-olds are naturally empathetic toward people in pain.

Source: University of Chicago


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Nov 07, 2008
Wow. They actually spent money on this?

Everybody already knows that.

Nov 07, 2008
Yeah, duh, but now they can point to a study that proves bullies are abnormal. Maybe now the academics will do something to stop them rather than punish both the bully and the victim, thus giving the bully double pleasure. Nah, they'll probably coddle them even more because "they can't help themselves, they have a disorder." Grrr.

The real application of this, however, is if they can show that repeated stimulation of this abnormal pathway increases pleasure-seeking behaviour using that pathway - i.e., watching a lot of violence on TV => violent behaviour.

Nov 07, 2008
Wow. They actually spent money on this?

Everybody already knows that.


Um, no. Until very recently, everyone "knew" that bullies behaved that way because of a lack of self-esteem. It took a study published in SciAm which showed that bullies actually suffer from an *excess* of self-esteem to get people to start rethinking things (frankly, this has always been obvious to me, but hey ,what do I know).

Even then, knowing in general how bullies behave and knowing specifically how the brain reacts are two different things. As Keter points out, turning this into a simple stimulus/reward situation narrows the range of possible treatments. For instance, "see how YOU like it" probably wouldn't work.

Yes
Nov 07, 2008
Bullying is essentially terrorism!
Yes the feared and hated TERRORISM!
Why we try to eradicate terrorism over far away borders, while our schools are plagued with it?
Do me a favor and START eradicating terrorism in our own schools!

Yes
Nov 07, 2008
It is common knowledge that nuisance weed need to be uprooted.
It is also well know that if you cut the weed above the root, it will come back stronger then before.

Nov 07, 2008
I'm normally quite cautious of any behaviour modification therapies, even including medicating kids with ADHD in all but the worst cases, or loading people with questionably effective antidepressants.

...but to me this seems like the most fundamental, clear-cut example of a harmful brain defect in the context of our present society. Sadism is not a useful trait even in soldiers. I'd be in favour of engineering it out of the gene pool - it's kinder than euthanasia, and would be far cheaper than incarceration of all affected.

Nov 07, 2008
Bullying is a way in which kids practice establishing a social hierarchy, its a relict of our animal past like many others things.

Labeling everything you don't like as terrorism only manages to rid the term of the little meaning still left after terrorists attacked terrorists in the name of war on terror.

Yes
Nov 07, 2008
Bullying is a way in which kids practice establishing a social hierarchy, its a relict of our animal past like many others things.


I am always cautious when comparing two phenomena.
Even if you are right about our animal past, bullying is unfair practice to get what you want based on terror. It is a behavior that always escalates until something very unfortunate happens. Then the bullier hits the limit and is drawn the attention.
Those unfortunate things are sometimes very unfortunate and have deep deep impact on the victims and prevents them from performing in the future.
A bullier at school does not have a clear auto justification and do their terror. Maybe as you say: Dog behavior.
Terrorists have a more or less defined auto justification and then do their actions. That is the difference between the two.
But the external observed phenomenon is a terrorist action.
So objectively if you don't see who is doing the action and remove the scale, then I fear you can't tell the difference.

This is definitely something our society wants to escape from and can escape from if we make the effort.
If we say...... well this is how we were programmed, then that is social conformism.

Nov 07, 2008
Um, no. Until very recently, everyone "knew" that bullies behaved that way because of a lack of self-esteem.


Self-esteem, i.e. "pride" is the key motivator in the majority of crime, most especially assault and arguments and fights in schools.

You are correct when you say they have too much self esteem, everyone does.

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
===

"Self Esteem" is just a PC word for "pride", "Arrogance", and "self centeredness".

Nov 07, 2008
Is it the human goal to give a name to two or more things? I mean bullys probably are not bullys to everyone they know just that one group of kids or something... So now we call the person a bully does that mean they are always bully? If they are not always bully then if we try to change them into not a bully at some times we will probably end up changing what they are when they are not a bully...

Nov 10, 2008

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.


Did you know that the conversation between Jesus and his disciples in the garden is almost a total plagiarism of the book of Daniel? Many of the "quotes" are word for word. The theory is that whoever wrote that section of the gospels figured that gentiles wouldn't know any better. (By this time, around 80-100 CE, the xian followers had pretty much accepted that there was no traction to be had in Israel)


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