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

Researchers link sleep deprivation with criminal behavior

November 22, 2013
Lack of sleep can contribute to delinquent behavior by adolescents, according to an FIU study published earlier this month.

Brain development provides insights into adolescent depression

March 4, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A new study led by the University of Melbourne and Orygen Youth Health Research Centre is the first to discover that the brain develops differently in adolescents who experience depression. These brain ...

Social pressure drives teens to sext despite personal attitude

December 14, 2013
(HealthDay)—Preventive efforts to reduce sexting among adolescents need to address what significant others in teenagers' lives think about them engaging in sexting, according to a study published in Behaviour & Information ...

Study reveals brain changes in teenage girls with severe antisocial behaviour

October 24, 2012
Teenage girls with severe antisocial behaviour show abnormal changes in the structure of their brains, according to a study published today. The findings support previous studies in boys that suggested the brains of teenagers ...

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

The neural codes for body movements

July 21, 2017
A small patch of neurons in the brain can encode the movements of many body parts, according to researchers in the laboratory of Caltech's Richard Andersen, James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, Tianqiao and Chrissy ...

Faulty support cells disrupt communication in brains of people with schizophrenia

July 20, 2017
New research has identified the culprit behind the wiring problems in the brains of people with schizophrenia. When researchers transplanted human brain cells generated from individuals diagnosed with childhood-onset schizophrenia ...

Scientists reveal how patterns of brain activity direct specific body movements

July 20, 2017
New research by Columbia scientists offers fresh insight into how the brain tells the body to move, from simple behaviors like walking, to trained movements that may take years to master. The discovery in mice advances knowledge ...

Scientists discover combined sensory map for heat, humidity in fly brain

July 20, 2017
Northwestern University neuroscientists now can visualize how fruit flies sense and process humidity and temperature together through a "sensory map" within their brains, according to new research.

Team traces masculinization in mice to estrogen receptor in inhibitory neurons

July 20, 2017
Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have opened a black box in the brain whose contents explain one of the remarkable yet mysterious facts of life.

Speech language therapy delivered through the Internet leads to similar improvements as in-person treatment

July 20, 2017
Telerehabilitation helps healthcare professionals reach more patients in need, but some worry it doesn't offer the same quality of care as in-person treatment. This isn't the case, according to recent research by Baycrest.

0 comments

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.