A study was done on aggressive teenagers and shows that they may actually enjoy inflicting pain on others.
An area in the brain associated with rewards showed up in scans of aggressive youth when they watched a video of someone inflicting pain on another person.
“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.”
For the study, researchers compared eight 16-18 year old boys with aggressive conduct disorder to a control group of eight boys with no 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.
Both groups were shown video clips of someone inflicting pain on another person accidentally, such as when a bowl was dropped on a person’s hand, and also intentionally, such as when a person stepped on another person’s foot. The brain activity of the teens were monitored by a fMRI.
In the aggressive teens, the area of the brain that feels rewards became very active when they saw pain being given to others. There was little activity shown in the area of the brain involved in self-regulation.
Researchers state that the differences between the two groups was striking, but that the study was small and that a larger study needs to be conducted in order to confirm their findings.