Bullies' brains could be hardwired for sadism, suggests new imaging research. Many adults remember the glint of elation in a bully's eyes when they were a kid. So some of us might wonder why the surprise over research that suggests bullies enjoy inflicting pain. We've known that forever. In fact, studies indicate that as many as half of all kids are bullied at some time during their school years, with 10 per cent bullied on a regular basis. And for adults, research shows bullying in the work place is common and a very real problem.
Well, researchers believe this recent work will help us better understand ways to work with juveniles inclined to aggression and violence. We can all give that possibility a hip-hip!
"Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance," according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment."
The new study, published in the current issue of the journal Biological Psychology, used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging(fMRI,)to compare brain activity in eight unusually aggressive 16 to 18-year-old males with those of eight normal adolescent males while they viewed videos of people getting hurt.
PAIN OR PLEASURE?
The imaging showed activity in the brain's pain centers for both groups; but,the brains of the aggressive males -- who had "conduct disorder," a very serious psychological condition-- also showed activity in the brain's pleasure centers. What did that mean? It suggests that they enjoyed what they were seeing. The normal males did not show this activity.
"It just dumbfounded us," said Dr. Benjamin Lahey, co-author of the study and professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at the University of Chicago, as reported by Radha Chitale, ABC News Medical Unit. The researcher said he anticipated an emotionally indifferent response to pain from the subjects with conduct disorder -- characterized by aggressive and destructive behavior towards other people and animals and may include theft, substance abuse and sexual promiscuity. (For further description of "conduct disorder, go here.)
Instead, Lahey said the fMRI scans revealed a strong but very atypical emotional response.
NOT NORMAL EMOTIONS
When it comes to pain, the actual brain circuitry is different in people with conduct disorder than a typical person's neuro-circuitry. The kids with conduct disorder showed brain activity in the area of the brain associated with pleasure and rewards, which include sex, food and drug use. (For science types, who want specifics -- the activity was in the amygdala and the ventral striatum.) The normal response would be negative emotions when seeing someone being hurt; however, these children reacted positively, suggesting they are excited and enjoying viewing others being hurt.
Additionally for the kids with conduct disorder, their brains showed no activity in the part of the brain that could have controlled those pleasurable emotions, (the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction) area of the brain involved in self-regulation, as described by Live Science.
Not only are they indifferent to the pain, they may love it. But they're responding to others who are being hurt in a way that's self-reinforcing, said Dr. Lahey. However, he cautioned not to extrapolate the results to all bullying behavior.
Study leader Jean Decety, professor in psychology and psychiatry at the University of Chicago, has previously shown that seven to 12 year olds have natural empathy for people in pain. The most recent study, however, suggests that in some boys, natural empathetic impulses are disrupted in ways that increase aggression.
BEHAVIORAL SOLUTIONS BEFORE DRUGS
"A better understanding of the biological basis of these things is good to have, but the danger is it causes people to leap to biological solutions -- drugs -- rather than other behavioral solutions," said Decety, as reported by BBC News.
A big problem, however, is that there really aren't any therapies developed to successfully treat conduct disorder. But if possible in the future, early intervention and therapy might help reprogram the brain circuitry to help prevent conduct disorder in the first place, or maybe keep it under control.
TO READ "A DISGUSTING BULLY: RAIDERS COACH PUNCHES ASSISTANT AND FRACTURES JAW" CLICK HERE.
TO READ "WORKPLACE BULLIES: A PROBLEM OF EPIDEMIC PROPORTIONS" CLICK HERE.