Atypical neural responses during face processing in female adolescents with conduct disorder

Graeme Fairchild, Cindy Hagan, Luca Passamonti, Nicholas Walsh, Ian Goodyer, Andrew Calder

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OBJECTIVE: Conduct disorder (CD) in females is associated with negative adult outcomes including mental health problems and personality disorders. Although recent neuroimaging studies have reported changes in neural activity during facial emotion processing in males with CD or callous-unemotional (CU) traits, there have been no neuroimaging studies specifically assessing females with CD. We addressed this gap by investigating whether female adolescents with CD show atypical neural activation when processing emotional or neutral faces.

METHOD: We acquired functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from 20 female adolescents with CD and 20 female control participants while they viewed angry, sad, and neutral faces.

RESULTS: An omnibus group (CD, control) by facial emotion (angry, sad, neutral) analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed main effects of facial emotion in superior temporal cortex, fusiform gyrus, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and insula, and main effects of group in medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and right anterior insula. Female participants with CD showed reduced medial OFC and increased anterior insula responses relative to healthy controls. There were no significant group × facial emotion interactions. Lifetime CD symptoms were negatively correlated with amygdala, superior temporal cortex, fusiform gyrus, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity for the contrast "all-faces versus fixation." CU traits were negatively correlated with fusiform gyrus activity for the contrast sad versus neutral faces.

CONCLUSION: Females with CD showed atypical neural activation during the processing of all facial expressions, irrespective of valence. Our results demonstrate that severity of CD symptoms and CU traits is important in explaining abnormal patterns of neural activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)677-687.e5
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number6
Early online date11 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Conduct Disorder
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • fMRI
  • face processing
  • Females


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