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Badly behaved boys shown to have increased gray matter

18 March 2009

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, have published new research that showed boys with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits have increased gray matter, identified using structural magnetic resonance imaging.  The paper is published on line in the journal Brain.

Lead authors at the IOP, Stephane De Brito and Essi Viding and colleagues found that compared to typically developing boys, boys with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits had more gray matter in several brain regions that are important for decision-making, morality and empathy.  Recent research suggests that gray matter decreases from childhood to adulthood and these new findings are consistent with a delay in brain maturation in boys with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits.

Identifying the origin of severe antisocial behaviour is a government priority and these findings add to the evidence base that there is a small group of children who show an early onset of antisocial behaviour and may be characterized by neurobiological vulnerabilities.

The study suggests that there is a potential developmental delay in those brain areas critical for decision-making and empathy and that such developmental delay may put this vulnerable group of boys at risk of continuous antisocial behaviour.  Early identification of at-risk children might help to specifically tailor prevention and intervention programmes aimed at tackling the development of severe antisocial behaviour.

Please refer to the Journal Brain for a full copy of the paper entitled: Size Matters: Increased gray matter in boys with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits.  The authors are: Stephane De Brito, Andrea Mechelli, Marko Wilke, Kristin R Laurens, Alice P Jones, Gareth J Barker, Sheilagh Hodgins and Essi Viding.

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