The Bullying Brain December 3, 2008Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Think About It.
Tags: Bully, Conduct disorder, Victim
It’s an important question for loads of scientists, parents, victims of bullies and even bullies themselves – what makes someone want to bully another person? A new imaging study in the United States sheds a bit of light on the subject. It found that in aggressive teenage boys, the parts of the brain linked to reward – the amygdala and ventral striatum – light up when the boy views a video of someone inflicting pain. We already know about the effects of bullying but finding out why it happens is super important too.
Wired Up For Bullying
Jean Decety, a researcher at the University of Chicago, used a functional MRI scan to look at the brain of each teenager who participated in the study. Researchers already knew that half of the participants had a ‘conduct’ disorder while the other half had no history of being aggressive. The teens who did have a conduct disorder had done stuff such as starting a fight or stealing from a victim.
To see what happened in the brain of a boy who had a conduct disorder, each teen was asked to look at a video where a person accidentally experienced pain. So, the video would show a person having their foot stepped on or something similar along those lines. What do you think might have happened in the brain of a person with a conduct disorder? If you guessed there was a difference from the participants with no aggressive history, you got it right!
A Fired Up Amygdala
The aggressive boys had a major, intense activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum when they looked at the video clips. Researchers think the results suggest that aggressive boys gain enjoyment from viewing pain.
On the other hand, the control group – teens who didn’t have a history of aggression – showed activation of different parts of the brain. The medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction may sound like complicated words, but they represent areas of our brain that are important in self-regulation.
Let’s Find Out More
While this research study can teach us more about how the brain works and how it is that a teen chooses to bully another person, it was still criticized for being too small. It only looked at sixteen boys between 16-18 years old. This means that we will have to wait and see what kind of results we get from a bigger study.
Also, some scientists are worried this type of study will mean that instead of finding ways to help a bully change his behavior, we will simply use medications to ‘fix’ them. The fear comes from the fact that a study like this shows bullying has a biological basis. It’s like saying that your brain makes you harm another person, so you can’t make the choice to be nicer.
Lots of us have dealt with bullying in school and it can really make the victim’s life miserable. Finding out how and why people bully others will help us to learn better ways to prevent it from happening and it will let us deal with bullying when it strikes. Hyperactive amygdala and ventral striatum or not – bullying has to stop!