Bullies enjoy victims' pain, study suggests
November 7, 2008
CHICAGO - Brain scans of teens with a history of bullying behavior suggest that they may actually get pleasure out of seeing someone else in pain, researchers said yesterday.
Although this might 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 an 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 males ages 16 to 18 with aggressive conduct disorder to a group of eight adolescent males with no unusual signs of aggression.
The teens with the conduct disorder had exhibited disruptive behavior such as starting a fight or using a weapon.
They showed both groups video clips of someone inflicting pain on another person and tracked brain activity with a type of imaging called test 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.