Understanding disruptive behaviors in youth

Disruptive behaviors in children and youth may involve proactive and reactive aggressions. Werhahn et al. explored functional brain connectivity at rest and compared children and adolescents with disruptive behaviors to a control group. They considered ADHD and anxiety as comorbidities in the analysis. Using functional MRI (fMRI), they detected aggression-specific brain patterns.

The researchers investigated the brain activity of 207 children and adolescents (average age of 13.3 years; 118 with disruptive behaviors, 89 controls). They used fMRI to detect functional brain connectivity at rest (i.e. when there are no tasks or outside stimulations to the brain).

In frontal brain areas, alterations were noted for the group showing disruptive behaviors – but only when ADHD symptoms were not considered. Specific reactive and proactive aggression patterns that linked to distinct brain regions were identified. Moreover, unemotional behavior affected brain regions typically tied to empathy and emotion.

Notably, most specific aggression-related connectivity patterns emerged only when ADHD and anxiety were taken into account. Thus, the study emphasizes the importance of considering comorbidities for accurate insights into aggression-related brain alterations in youth.


Werhahn, J.E., Smigielski, L., Sacu, S. et al., Walitza, S., Brandeis, D. Different whole-brain functional connectivity correlates of reactive-proactive aggression and callous-unemotional traits in children and adolescents with disruptive behaviors. NeuroImage: Clinical, Vol. 40 (2023)

Additional information: https://www.kjpd.uzh.ch/de/multimod/bm/bm-akt/aggressotype.html

Image: Werhan et al.