Study of Bullies' Brains Shows Enjoyment of Inflicting Pain

Sherry Harowitz

Bullies may get pleasure from the pain they inflict on bullies. That's the finding of a study reported in the current issue of the journal Biological Psychology,according to The National Science Foundation.

The study involved Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans of eight 16- to 18-year-old boys with aggressive conduct disorder and eight matched adolescents without conduct disorder, according to the NSF writeup.

"The study showed increased activity in an area of the brain associated with rewards when the aggressive boys watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. The control group did not have the same response," explains the NSF story.

The lead researcher was Jean Decety, professor in psychology and psychiatry at the University of Chicago.

Bullying is a serious problem not only in schools, but even for workplaces, where, as noted in November 2007 "Intelligence" in Security Management, the former schoolyard bullies often are found intimidating their coworkers.

The concerns over school bullies have even led to a move to make bullying a crime in some states, such as Oregon.

The University of Chicago researchers note that understanding that bullies get emotional reinforcement from inflicting pain is important information in trying to craft prevention programs.

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