Southampton Uni To Research Girls' Anti-Social Behaviour

19 June 2014, 06:58 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

Southampton University's been given EU funding to research violent and anti-social behaviour in teenage girls.

Conduct Disorder (CD) is a psychological condition that affects children and adolescents of both genders and is associated with aggressive and antisocial behaviour.

The University is one of 13 research institutions across Europe that will share over £4.8 million of European Union funding to conduct a large scale study of girls with Conduct Disorder, starting in late childhood and going up to age 18.

The four year study will look into the causes of the condition, which has been on the increase in many European countries and the United States.

Typical problems associated with Conduct Disorder include teenage pregnancy, difficulties integrating into working life, drug abuse, delinquency and chronic health problems. It is also related to high school dropout and truancy rates.

"It costs society ten times as much to raise children with Conduct Disorder to adulthood as children without the condition, and they are at greater risk of developing mental and physical health problems in adulthood," says Dr Graeme Fairchild, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of the Southampton.

"The FemNAT-CD study will involve studying the development of the brain and the body?s stress system in children and teenagers with Conduct Disorder.  We will also study a range of risk factors for antisocial behaviour such as bullying, migration, post-natal depression in mothers and negative peer influences."

The University of Southampton has received almost £400,000 of the total funds to carry out the study, which will begin this summer. The organisers of the project, which is named FemNAT-CD, were granted the money after successfully applying for the EU funding programme FP7-Health-2013-Innovation.

So far the majority of research into CD has centred on males and as such, much of our knowledge about the causes and course of the disorder, and its possible treatments, originates from studies with boys.

Although CD is more common in boys than in girls, about three percent of girls suffer from the condition, which is especially common in the teenage years. The study aims to examine the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of girls with CD to establish the relationship between genetic predisposition and environmental influences, amongst other factors, such as the influence of stress hormones and the autonomic nervous system.

"We hope to understand why girls are less likely to develop antisocial behaviour than boys, and whether this is due to nature or nurture," says Dr Fairchild. "This may also enable us to identify protective factors present in girls that might be harnessed to help children of both sexes from developing aggressive or antisocial behaviour."

In addition to investigating the causes of CD, and developing new treatments, the project aims to communicate the findings of the study to a broad audience of experts together with patients and their families.

Project leader Prof. Christine Freitag, Director of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University Hospital Frankfurt, said:

"We are very glad that we now have the opportunity, together with our partners, to comprehensively investigate conduct disorders in girls and to improve our understanding of the disorder. As a result we will lay the groundwork for optimised therapies, in order to be able to help girls better in future."