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Why Antisocial Youth Are Less Capable of Seeing Others’ Perspectives

Justin BieberAdolescents diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder often inflict serious physical and psychological harm on both other and themselves. However, scientists have been known little about the underlying neural processes. A recent study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience finds that their brain regions responsible for social information processing and impulse control are less developed.

The research focused on participants aged between 15- and 21-year-olds from the Netherlands who had been diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder. The researchers at the University of Leiden and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development had the youths play the mini-ultimatum game, which simulates fairness considerations. In this cooperative game, the player is offered a sum of money by another player and is also told whether the opponent could have made a fairer offer or had no alternative. During the game, the adolescents’ brain activity was measured and recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). By comparing the results with the control group composing of non-delinquent adolescents, the researchers were able to understand what was going on in the adolescents’ brains in the context of fairness considerations.

Comparing with the control group, the delinquent youths showed less activation in the temporoparietal junction and in the inferior frontal gyrus and these brain areas are account for functions including the ability to put oneself in another person’s position and impulse control. It was also observed that both groups showed similar levels of activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the anterior insula, brain areas linked with affective processes. The results suggest that the delinquent adolescents rejected these offers more often, though both groups of youths presented same levels of emotional reactivity to unfair offers. Compared with the control group, they did not consider their opponent’s intention—even when their opponent had no alternative.

Hence, adolescents with antisocial personality disorder appear to have difficulties in considering all the relevant information in social interactions, such as others’ intentions. It is hypothesized that such behavior in turn results in more antisocial behavior. “Adolescence is a period of multiple physical, neurological and social changes. This study provides us a better understanding of what really happens during the this sensitive phase and how things go astray, leading to the development of antisocial behaviors,” say Wouter van den Bos, the lead author of the research and scientist in the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. The researchers hope that their results could help inform the development of psychotherapeutic treatments.

Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft


  1. W. van den Bos, P. Vahl, B. Guro lu, F. van Nunspeet, O. Colins, M. Markus, S. A. R. B. Rombouts, N. van der Wee, R. Vermeiren, E. A. Crone. Neural correlates of social decision-making in severely antisocial adolescents. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2014; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsu003

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