I’m really unsure as to why National Geographic, or any peer-reviewed journal, would publish the results of a study that involved only 16 subjects, but I haven’t been in the bona fide research business for several years.
In the study, Lahey and his colleagues looked at brain activity of eight 16- to 18-year-old boys with histories of lying, stealing, committing vandalism, and bullying.
These eight boys, who suffer what’s clinically known as aggressive conduct disorder, were compared to a group of adolescent boys with no such histories.
The bullying group was shown a series of brief videos that depict painful situations—some accidental, such as a hammer dropped on a toe; others intentional, such as a piano lid closed on a player’s fingers.
In addition to revealing activity in pleasure- and pain-related areas of the brain, the scans also showed that a portion of the brain that helps regulate emotion is inactive in bullies.
In other words, bullies lack a mechanism to keep themselves in check when, for example, a kid accidentally bumps them in the lunch line.
The results are somewhat sensational and, I would argue, not surprising, if you are at all familiar with having to deal with bullies, yourself or via your kids or others you know. Having performed mental health assessments and amenability reviews on juveniles alledged to have committed acts of delinquincy or crime, I’ve met kids who absolutely do get pleasure from other people’s pain and have shown no emotion.
Still, I would be extremely cautious about drawing any kind of conclusions from a study of just 16 teen boys. I’m very curious to understand how the journal justifies publishing the findings at this point.
This ABC News item has more details of the study.
Hattip Blogesque tweet.