Long-term antisociality associated with particular differences in brain structure, study says

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Among adults exhibiting life-course-persistent antisocial behavior, researchers found a possible correlation with brain structure abnormalities during mid-adulthood, a new study says. The findings appeared in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

In the study, a research team racked up structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data of over 1,030 participants as part of the Dunedin Study. At the time of data gathering, the participants were in mid-adulthood (45 years of age), but received their first assessment at age 3.

“Participants underwent MRI, and mean global cortical surface area and cortical thickness were extracted for each participant,” the findings state. “We used linear estimated ordinary least squares regressions to compare each antisocial trajectory group (life-course persistent and adolescence limited) with the low trajectory group to examine whether antisocial behaviour was related to abnormalities in mean global surface area and mean cortical thickness.”

“Next, we used parcel-wise linear regressions to identify antisocial trajectory group differences in surface area and cortical thickness. All results were controlled for sex and false discovery rate corrected.”

According to the study, a Siemens Skyra 3T scanner with a 64-channel head and neck coil were used to scan the participants. Thereafter, structural MRI data was analyzed utilizing the Human Connectome Project minimal preprocessing pipeline. Four participants were excluded from the examination of structural MRI data as a result of tumors or brain injuries.

After probing the available MRI data, the results indicated that 12 percent of the participants were regarded as demonstrating life-course persistent antisocial behavior, 23 percent: adolescence-limited antisocial behavior, and 66 percent: low antisocial behavior.

Moreover, researchers also found that smaller mean surface area and lower mean cortical thickness was more evident in the participants with life-course-persistent antisocial behavior compared to their counterparts.

“Our findings support the idea that, for the small proportion of individuals with life-course-persistent antisocial behaviour, there may be differences in their brain structure that make it difficult for them to develop social skills that prevent them from engaging in antisocial behaviour. These people could benefit from more support throughout their lives,” said Christina Carlisi, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the University College London.

“Most people who exhibit antisocial behaviour primarily do so only in adolescence, likely as a result of navigating socially difficult years, and these individuals do not display structural brain differences. It is also these individuals who are generally capable of reform and go on to become valuable members of society,” Carlisi explained.

“Moreover, although the Dunedin Study is a population-representative cohort, 93% of the sample is white. Further work is needed to evaluate generalisability of the results to other populations,” the research team concluded.

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