Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 125–156 | Cite as

Antisocial Behavior, Psychopathic Features and Abnormalities in Reward and Punishment Processing in Youth

  • Amy L. Byrd
  • Rolf Loeber
  • Dustin A. Pardini


A better understanding of what leads youth to initially engage in antisocial behavior (ASB) and more importantly persist with such behaviors into adulthood has significant implications for prevention and intervention efforts. A considerable number of studies using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques have investigated abnormalities in reward and punishment processing as potential causal mechanisms underlying ASB. However, this literature has yet to be critically evaluated, and there are no comprehensive reviews that systematically examine and synthesize these findings. The goal of the present review is twofold. The first aim is to examine the extent to which youth with ASB are characterized by abnormalities in (1) reward processing; (2) punishment processing; or (3) both reward and punishment processing. The second aim is to evaluate whether aberrant reward and/or punishment processing is specific to or most pronounced in a subgroup of antisocial youth with psychopathic features. Studies utilizing behavioral methods are first reviewed, followed by studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging. An integration of theory and research across multiple levels of analysis is presented in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of reward and punishment processing in antisocial youth. Findings are discussed in terms of developmental and contextual considerations, proposed future directions and implications for intervention.


Antisocial behavior Psychopathy Callous–unemotional Reward Punishment Youth 



This work was supported in part by a Grant awarded to Amy Byrd from the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training Fellowship (0549352). Dr. Rolf Loeber’s efforts are supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA411018), National Institute on Mental Health (MH 48890, MH 50778), the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (96-MU-FX-0012), and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (SAP 4100043365). Dr. Dustin Pardini’s efforts are supported by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (1K01MH078039-01A1).

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical CenterPittsburghUSA

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