19 April 2010

Bullies' brains are different

Some alarming research from the University of Chicago last year found that the brains of bullies – kids who start fights, tell lies and break stuff with glee – may be wired to actually feel pleasure when watching others suffer pain. This is somewhat counter-intuitive as bullies would be expected to possess an emotional cold-ness that enables their behaviour, and therefore show no response when they witnessed pain in someone else.

Previous brain imaging studies had shown that when non-bullies saw others in pain, the same areas of the brain light up as when they experience pain themselves – a sign of empathy. This new research showed that these areas in the bullies’ brains were even more active than in the non-bullies and their empathetic response seemed to be warped in the amygdale and ventral striatum, regions of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. The researchers concluded that the bullies are getting positively reinforced each time they bully and are aggressive to others. The scans also showed that a portion of the brain that helps to regulate emotion is inactive in bullies – so they lack a process to keep themselves in check when something out of the ordinary happens – for instance if someone bumps into them unexpectedly.

Hopefully this on-going brain research is helping in this area, and will give rise to some positive actions to cut down on bullying.

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