Social Cognition Deficits Common in Young Adults with Antisocial Personalities

Antisocial traits include behaviors that have the potential to cause harm to individuals and encompass a wide variety of negative activities such as aggression, hostility, cheating, and lying. Other characteristics of antisocial behavior are lack of empathy and remorse, low quality of interpersonal relationships, impulsivity, and grandiosity. These patterns of behavior are often associated with other psychological issues including gambling, substance misuse, and anxiety. The impact on functioning is clearly evidenced through high rates of unemployment, violence, criminal activity, strained social networks, and suicide.

Although there is a wide body of research focused on the presence of antisocial traits during childhood, less is known about the prevalence of antisocial tendencies in young adulthood. This is an especially important time period to study because antisocial behaviors can increase ten-fold during this developmental phase.

To get more insight into how antisocial behaviors present during young adulthood, and how social cognition affects antisocial behaviors, Anita van Zwieten of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney in Australia recently led a study involving 91 participants between the ages of 15 and 25 who were receiving psychological care. She administered attention, IQ, working memory, and social cognition performance tests to the participants and found that those with low levels of social cognition had the highest levels of antisocial characteristics. This relationship persisted even when she accounted for measurements of IQ, gender, memory, and attention.

One of the most significant relationships was found between low social cognition and alcohol abuse. This finding indicated that alcohol misuse was a common coping mechanism for those high in psychopathic characteristics. Zwieten believes that these findings demonstrate that young adults with antisocial behaviors could benefit from specific treatments.

She said, “The current results highlight the potential to modify treatment programs for those who display psychopathic traits in youth clinical mental health services.” Specifically, programs designed to address emotional regulation, recognition, and reaction, along with attention and problem solving strategies could be especially helpful for young adults and children with antisocial tendencies and low social cognition.

Van Zwieten, A., Meyer, J., Hermens, D.F., Hickie, I.B., Hawes, D.J., et al. (2013). Social cognition deficits and psychopathic traits in young people seeking mental health treatment. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67753. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067753

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  • Mille Reid

    Mille Reid

    July 25th, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    I think that with many mental illness issues you will discover that the sooner this started in life the greater the negative impact that it can have on someone especially if they have never sought or been provided treatment.

    We all know how difficult that it can be to get the right diagnosis or even the right treatment plan that will give one the ebst results. I don’t believe that this is from a lack of trying but usually from a lack of understanding.

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