Behavioral Problems in Children Linked to Differently Structured Brain

First Posted: Dec 11, 2015 08:01 AM EST

It turns out that children with behavioral problems may have a differently structured brain. Scientists have found that children with antisocial and aggressive behavior show reduced grey matter volume in a number of areas of the brain.

In this latest study, the researchers combined brain imaging data from 13 existing studies including 394 youths with behavioral problems and 350 typically developing youths.

"We know that severe behavioral problems in youths are not only predictive of antisocial and aggressive behavior in adulthood, but also substance misuse, mental health problems and poor physical health," said Stephane De Brito, lead author of the new paper, in a news release. "For that reason, behavioral problems are an essential target for prevention efforts and our study advances understanding of the brain regions associated with aggressive and antisocial behavior in youths."

More specifically, the researchers found that children with behavioral problems had grey matter reductions specifically within the amygdala, the insula, and the prefrontal cortex. These brain areas are important for decision-making, empathic responses, reading facial expressions and emotion regulation. These are key cognitive and affective processes that are deficient in youths with behavioral problems.

"There are a lot of questions still outstanding," said Jack Rogers, one of the researchers. "For instance, prospective longitudinal studies are needed to assess if these structural differences are present early in life and if they persist over a longer period of time. In future research, it will also be important to examine if these brain differences, and the affective and cognitive processes they are involved in, canbe influenced by therapeutic interventions to promote a good outcome in adult life."

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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