Saturday, November 08, 2008

Aggressive people might get pleasure from the pain of others

ScienceDaily reports on a new study that indicates that aggressive youth get a kick out of seeing other people in pain.

Bullies May Enjoy Seeing Others In Pain

Scans of the aggressive youth's brains showed that an area that is associated with rewards was highlighted when the youth watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. Youth without the unusually aggressive behavior did not have that response, the study showed.

The youth were picked because they had a record of aggressive behavior, while the control group didn't have such records.

The study is interesting because it indicates that aggressive people don't just lack empathy, they actually enjoy seeing other people in pain. In other words, they are sadists (though not necessarily with the sexual connotations that word sometimes contains).

There is more about the study at the website of the University of Chicago, which also links to a pdf version of the paper which is published in Biological Psychology.

So, what does this mean? Well, I guess it will be easier to determine whether aggressive behavior by someone is an one-time occurrence, or it might be symptoms of a general tendency towards aggression. In the later case, it might be important to work with the aggressive person, so they can try to behave in a socially acceptable manner. It cannot be stressed enough that just because someone get pleasure from something, it doesn't mean that they cannot avoid doing that thing. So, in other words, this knowledge must never become a tool for judging people, though it could perhaps be used as migrating circumstances in first-time juvenile cases.

BBC also writes of the study, and they bring up an important point.

Dr Michael Eslea, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire said the research was interesting but needed to be repeated in a larger sample.

"A better understanding of the biological basis of these things is good to have but the danger is it causes people to leap to biological solutions - drugs - rather than other behavioural solutions."

Yes, just going for drugs is not a good long-term solution, but in some cases it could perhaps be a short-term solution.

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