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Abnormalities in brain structure and function in adolescents with severe antisocial behaviour  Seminar

Dr Graeme Fairchild
16:00 - 17:30
11 November 2010
School of Psychology, Room 3095, Shackleton Building (Building 44), University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this seminar, please telephone Barbara Seiter on +44 (0) 23 8059 5578 or email .

Event details

The developmental taxonomic theory of antisocial behaviour proposes that childhood-onset behaviour problems occur as a result of neurodevelopmental damage to brain structures involved in executive functions and affect regulation.

In contrast, the theory views adolescence-onset behaviour problems as normative, reflecting processes within the peer group such as social mimicry.

My recent work has challenged this theory by demonstrating neurocognitive and emotional impairments in male adolescents with childhood- and adolescence-onset Conduct Disorder (CD), a psychiatric diagnosis associated with increased aggressive and antisocial behaviour.

To investigate the neural mechanisms underlying these behavioural deficits, my colleagues and I acquired structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from 90 participants (27 controls and 63 with CD), and used voxel-based morphometry to quantify differences in grey matter volume between groups. Participants with CD, regardless of age of onset, showed volumetric reductions in bilateral amygdala, caudate nucleus, and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. These results may explain why adolescents with CD experience difficulties in recognising facial expressions and understanding how others are feeling. We went on to acquire functional MRI data using a task involving facial expression processing, and a second task involving reward-based decision-making. During the face processing task, participants with both forms of CD showed reduced or abnormal neural responses in bilateral amygdala, insula, ventrolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and superior temporal sulcus/gyrus. As such, we observed deficits in a network of regions involved in facial perception and social attention in CD. Finally, in our reward task, participants with both forms of CD showed enhanced responses to receipt of monetary rewards in medial orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region involved in representing hedonic states, suggesting that they are hypersensitive to reward.

Contrary to the developmental taxonomic theory, differences in brain structure and function were observed in both childhood-onset and adolescence-onset forms of CD. These data provide further evidence of dysfunction in brain regions involved in emotional behaviour, empathy and affect regulation in CD. Implications of these findings for the treatment of young offenders will be discussed.

Tea will be served beforehand at 15:45 in room 3096 (iZone room).

Speaker information

Dr Graeme Fairchild,Lecturer in Abnormal Psychology, School of Psychology, University of Southampton

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