Unruly teenagers may be suffering from brain abnormalities

Unruly teenagers may be suffering from brain abnormalities

"This provides extremely compelling evidence that conduct disorder is a real psychiatric disorder.”

Parents are no stranger to loud, boisterous, and unruly children—especially parents of boys. These behaviors, which follow them into their teens and sometimes even later, are considered normal, a part of their development.

But new research shows that boisterous behavior may be a sign of brain abnormalities.

Comparing the brains of teens with antisocial behavior with their more unruly peers, the research found that the actions of the latter stem from changes in brain development in early life.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers looked at the brain structure of male adolescents and young adults who had been diagnosed with conduct disorder, such as aggressive and destructive behavior, lying and stealing. For older children these included weapon use or staying out all night.

They looked at the coordinated development of different brain regions in particular to ascertain whether they were similar or different in terms of thickness. Those regions developing at similar rates would be expected to show similar patterns of cortical thickness.

"There is evidence already of differences in the brains of individuals with serious behavioral problems, but this is often simplistic and only focused on regions such as the amygdala, which we know is important for emotional behavior," said Luca Passamonti from University of Cambridge.

"But conduct disorder is a complex behavioral disorder, so likewise we would expect the changes to be more complex in nature and to potentially involve other brain regions," Luca Passamonti added.

The group that the researchers looked into involved 58 male adolescents and young adults with conduct disorder and 25 typically-developing controls. They are between 16 and 21 years-old. They divided the individuals with conduct disorder.

“Researchers found that youths with childhood-onset conduct disorder (sometimes termed 'early-starters') showed a strikingly higher number of significant correlations in thickness between regions relative to the controls,” said a Deccan Chronicle article.

“They believe this may reflect disruptions in the normal pattern of brain development in childhood or adolescence,” the article also said. “Youths with adolescent-onset conduct disorder ('late starters') displayed fewer such correlations than the healthy individuals.”

“The differences that we see between healthy teenagers and those with both forms of conduct disorders show that most of the brain is involved, but particularly the frontal and temporal regions of the brain," said Graeme Fairchild from University of Southampton.

Fairchild also said that such behaviours are not just an exaggerated form of teenage rebellion.

"This provides extremely compelling evidence that conduct disorder is a real psychiatric disorder.”

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