Through the looking glass: the neural basis of self-concept in young adults with antisocial trajectories


Self-concept is shaped by social experiences, but it is not yet well understood how the neural and behavioral development of self-concept is influenced by a history of antisocial behavior. In this pre-registered study, we examined neural responses to self-evaluations in young adults who engaged with antisocial behavior in childhood and either desisted or persisted in antisocial behavior. A self-concept task was performed by 94 young adults (age range 18–30 years). During the task, participants with a persistent or desistent antisocial trajectory (n = 54) and typically developing young adults (n = 40) rated whether positive and negative traits in different domains (prosocial and physical) described themselves. We examined both the effects of a history of antisocial behavior as well as current heterogeneity in psychopathic traits on self-concept appraisal and its neural underpinnings. Participants endorsed more positive trait statements than negative across domains, which did not differ between antisocial-history groups. However, current psychopathic traits were negatively associated with prosocial self-concept and medial prefrontal cortex activity during self-evaluation. Together, these findings suggest that antisocial tendencies might indeed be reflected in self-concept development of young adults, specifically in the prosocial domain.