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Brain Abnormalities Underlying Antisocial Behavior?

A bit ago a colleague alerted us to an extremely thought-provoking study that we think deserves wide attention, and will make tremendous sense to those of you already familiar with the underlying premises of the Think:Kids approach.  The study by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, discussed in Science News looked at the brain functioning of boys demonstrating antisocial behavior (abusing drugs, breaking laws, and acting recklessly) in comparison to the brain functioning of normal peers and found that while “brain responses to everyday rewards and punishments gradually guide most youngsters’ decisions…when these seriously troubled kids experience rewards and punishments, and make decisions, their brains apparently malfunction…Our findings strongly suggest that brain malfunction underlies their frequent failure to conform to rules, to make wise decisions, and to avoid relapses back to drug use and antisocial acts.”

These researchers found that “brain activation differed dramatically” in this group of boys compared to normal controls, with the troubled boys showing “significantly less brain activity than normal” in the parts of the brain that monitors changing rewards and punishments, “and also in other decision-making areas.”

What a ringing scientific endorsement of the view that reward and consequence-based strategies for dealing with concerning behavior miss the mark and are so often unsuccessful and counterproductive.  Fortunately there are alternative ways to respond.  But of course it all starts with the notion—obviously finding better support in the research literature every day—that “kids do well if they can!”