Antisocial Teenagers Unable to Empathize

antisocial teenagersAntisocial behavior in teens is worsening as their usage of social media, TV and games increases. They become immune to how others feel and cannot sympathize with them. A recent study set out to find a connection between antisocial teenagers and their inability to empathize. Researchers found a link to regions of the brain that are used to process information and control impulses. When these brain activity centers are underdeveloped, it creates an inability to show empathy.

While antisocial personality disorders can be identified fairly easily in teenagers, they cannot officially be diagnosed until they are 18 years old. Antisocial teenagers are prone to having anger issues. They may partake in bullying behavior, become destructive, engage in risky behavior or develop an unhealthy addiction. They also lack the normal amount of emotion and have trouble empathizing with others. It can come off as careless, cold or unsympathetic. Poor parenting, a learning disability or ADHD are possible reasons for the behavior. Gaming and media also contribute to the problem.

The availability of social media and excessive screen time worsens the behavior or antisocial teenagers. As many as 80 percent of teenagers get at least one hour of daily media time, with some getting more than five hours of exposure each day. The violence in video games and TV shows also promote a lack of empathy among the teens. They become less emotional when considering the thoughts or consequences that may affect other people.

The research from the University of Leiden and Max Planck Institute for Human Development was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. It shows why teens lack empathy by using incarcerated teens between the ages of 15 and 21 who have been diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder. Brain activity was measured while the teenagers participated in a game of mini-ultimatums. The purpose was to study the subjects as they reasoned fairness during the game. The teen was offered a set amount of money from an opponent and was also made aware of whether the opponent gave a fair amount of money or could have given more.

The brain showed less activity in response to unfair offers. Researchers found that teenagers with antisocial disorder were unable to take their opponent’s intentions into account, in contrast with the control group. This helps explain how antisocial teenagers have a difficult time with social encounters, in general.

Wouter van den Bos, lead author of the study, delved into the neurological aspect associated with the disorder. He said that their findings offer a clear understanding of the process in the brain during social interactions, as well as the inability for them to empathize. Knowing why the teens are not having responding with empathy and that is related to brain activity gives parents, educators and physicians a better idea of how to interact with the unemotional teens and how to help them. Early intervention is key for dealing with antisocial teenagers. Mental health professionals are often consulted for an evaluation. His intention is that the research contributes to future psychotherapy treatments for teenagers who have difficulties with social interactions.

By Tracy Rose


Science Daily
NYU Langone Medical center
Global Post

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