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News Release 08-199

Bullies May Enjoy Seeing Others in Pain

Brain scans show disturbance in normal levels of empathy

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Photo of a bully taunting another boy.

New research suggests unusually aggressive youth may actually enjoy seeing others in pain. Brain scans of eight 16- to 18-year-old boys with aggressive conduct disorder showed increased activity in an area of the brain associated with rewards when these aggressive boys watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted the study. It was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Credit: Credit: © 2008 Jupiter Images Corporation


Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans of aggressive boys showing strong reaction in brain.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans showed aggressive adolescents reacted strongly in two parts of the brain when watching pain inflicted on others. Arousal occurred in the ventral striatum, the area responsible for feeling empathy. But an even stronger reaction occurred in the amygdala, the area that responds to feeling rewarded. The scans caused researchers to hypothesize that aggressive youths may enjoy watching others in pain.

Credit: University of Chicago

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