The brain & antisocial behavior

Using neuroimaging, including MRI, fMRI, and DTI, we investigate the brain correlates of antisocial behavior across development, including neural underpinnings of violence, aggression, psychopathy, and callous-unemotional traits.

We recently investigated brain functioning during the processing of monetary reward. We were inspired by existing theoretical models of antisocial behavior, which have emphasized that disrupted reward processing is implicated in the etiology of disruptive behavior disorders (DBDs) and callous-unemotional traits. However, neuroimaging investigations of reward processing underlying these phenotypes remain sparse. In this study, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, we investigated sensitivity in response to reward anticipation and receipt among youths with DBDs, with and without callous-unemotional traits. Data were obtained from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study (mean age=9.51 years [SD=0.50]; 49% female). Reward-related activation during the monetary incentive delay task was examined across 16 brain regions, including the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), nucleus accumbens (NAcc), and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Latent variable modeling was used to examine network-level coactivation. The following diagnostic groups were compared: typically developing youths (N=693) and youths with DBDs (N=995), subdivided into those with callous-unemotional traits (DBD+CU, N=198) and without callous-unemotional traits (DBD only, N=276). During reward anticipation, we found that youths in the overall DBD group (with and without callous-unemotional traits) showed decreased dorsal ACC activation compared with typically developing youths. The DBD-only group exhibited reduced ventral and dorsal striatal activity compared with the DBD+CU and typically developing groups. During reward receipt, youths with DBDs showed increased cortical (e.g., OFC) and subcortical (e.g., NAcc) regional activation compared with typically developing youths. The DBD+CU group demonstrated greater activation in several regions compared with those in the typically developing (e.g., amygdala) and DBD-only (e.g., dorsal ACC) groups. At the network level, the DBD-only group showed reduced anticipatory reward activation compared with the typically developing and DBD+CU groups, whereas youths in the DBD+CU group showed increased activation during reward receipt compared with those in the typically developing group. These findings advance our understanding of unique neuroetiologic pathways to DBDs and callous-unemotional traits.

*Hawes, S.W., *Waller, R., Byrd, A.L., Bjork, J., Dick, A.S., Sutherland., M., Riedel, M.C., Tobia, M.J., Thomson, N., Laird, A.R., & Gonzalez, R. (2021). Reward Processing Among Children with Disruptive Behavior Disorders and Callous-Unemotional Traits in the ABCD Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 178, 333-342 *authors contributed equally to this manuscript.