Bullies may get kick out of seeing others in pain

Fri Nov 7, 2008 8:15am EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - 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, U.S. researchers said on Friday.

While this may come as little surprise to those who have been victimized by bullies, it is not what the researchers expected, Benjamin Lahey of the University of Chicago, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.

"The reason we were surprised is the prevailing view is these kids are cold and unemotional in their aggression," said Lahey, whose study appears in the journal Biological Psychology.

"This is looking like maybe they care very much," said Lahey, who worked on the study with Jean Decety, also of the University of Chicago.

The researchers compared eight boys ages 16 to 18 with aggressive conduct disorder to a group of eight 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.

They showed both groups video clips of someone inflicting pain on another person and tracked brain activity with a type of imaging called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.

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.   Continued...

<p>When youths with aggressive conduct disorder watch an individual intentionally hurting another (like closing a piano lead), regions of the brain that process painful information are activated, as well as the amygdala and ventral striatum (part of the neural circuit involved in reward processing. REUTERS/Jean Decety, University of Chicago/Handout</p>