Vol. 7, No. 1, 2001 Page 1

Violent teens add to evidence of link between sociopathic behavior, early damage to brain

A new British study of two violent, antisocial teenagers adds to evidence that sociopathic behavior can stem from early brain insults.

Faraneh Vargha-Khadem and colleagues say brain scans of their adolescent subjects, both of whom suffered childhood injuries that caused damage to the frontal lobes, revealed abnormalities in both hemispheres. "The most striking symptom in each case," they say, "is delinquent behavior, this having become pronounced during secondary school and leading eventually to appearances before the courts." The subjects also have reduced IQ scores, attention deficits, and pronounced cognitive defects.

Vargha-Khadem and colleagues say their findings confirm that despite neural plasticity—the ability of the brain to repair itself, especially if injured early in childhood—"early damage to ventral frontal cortex... leads with further development to sociopathic behavior and associated deficits." They suggest that their subjects' injuries "turned the boys into walking time bombs, because the trouble didn't show until years after the injuries."

The new case studies are consistent with an earlier report by Steven Anderson, Antonio Damasio, and colleagues (see related article, Crime Times, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 1, Page 3), who described two young adults who exhibited amoral and antisocial behaviors after suffering head injuries in childhood.


F. Vargha-Khadem, J. Cowan, and M. Mishkin, "Sociopathic behaviour after early damage to prefrontal cortex," presentation to the Society for Neuroscience, New Orleans, November 2000. Address: F. Vargha- Khadem, Institute of Child Health, University College of London, London, U.K.

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Josh Fischman, "Seeds of a sociopath," U.S. News & World Report, November 20, 2000, p. 82.

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