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Brain Regions Related to Impulsivity Mediate the Effects of Early Adversity on Antisocial Behavior

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Scott Mackey, Bader Chaarani, Kees-Jan Kan, Philip A Spechler, Catherine Orr, Tobias Banaschewski, Gareth Barker, Arun L W Bokde, Uli Bromberg, Christian Büchel, Anna Cattrell, Patricia J Conrod, Sylvane Desrivières, Herta Flor, Vincent Frouin, Jürgen Gallinat, Penny Gowland, Andreas Heinz, Bernd Ittermann, Marie-Laure Paillère Martinot & 12 more Eric Artiges, Frauke Nees, Dimitri Papadopoulos-Orfanos, Luise Poustka, Michael N Smolka, Sarah Jurk, Henrik Walter, Robert Whelan, Gunter Schumann, Robert R Althoff, Hugh Garavan, IMAGEN Consortium

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological psychiatry
Early online date18 Jan 2016
Accepted/In press28 Dec 2015
E-pub ahead of print18 Jan 2016


  • Mackey_BiolPsych_InPress

    Mackey_BiolPsych_InPress.pdf, 673 KB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:17 Mar 2016

    Version:Accepted author manuscript

    Licence:CC BY-NC-ND

King's Authors


BACKGROUND: Individual differences in impulsivity and early adversity are known to be strong predictors of adolescent antisocial behavior. However, the neurobiological bases of impulsivity and their relation to antisocial behavior and adversity are poorly understood.

METHODS: Impulsivity was estimated with a temporal discounting task. Voxel-based morphometry was used to determine the brain structural correlates of temporal discounting in a large cohort (n = 1830) of 14- to 15-year-old children. Mediation analysis was then used to determine whether the volumes of brain regions associated with temporal discounting mediate the relation between adverse life events (e.g., family conflict, serious accidents) and antisocial behaviors (e.g., precocious sexual activity, bullying, illicit substance use).

RESULTS: Greater temporal discounting (more impulsivity) was associated with 1) lower volume in frontomedial cortex and bilateral insula and 2) greater volume in a subcortical region encompassing the ventral striatum, hypothalamus and anterior thalamus. The volume ratio between these cortical and subcortical regions was found to partially mediate the relation between adverse life events and antisocial behavior.

CONCLUSIONS: Temporal discounting is related to regions of the brain involved in reward processing and interoception. The results support a developmental imbalance model of impulsivity and are consistent with the idea that negative environmental factors can alter the developing brain in ways that promote antisocial behavior.

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