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  • Research Project Team

    • R.M. Pasco Fearon,
    • Peter Fonagy,
    • James G. Sheffield,
    • Chia Chi Chow,
    • James Hanley,
    • Michael Eisen.


    • Stephen Butler (UCL),
    • Rachel Haley (UCL),
    • Elizabeth Simes (UCL).


    James G. Sheffield (

  • Background

    Several longitudinal studies have linked Conduct Disorder (CD) and life-course persistent antisocial behaviour with poor life outcomes.

    However, effective therapy options available to adolescent externalisers limited, and these interventions have demonstrated mixed effectiveness.

    One promising intervention is Multisystemic Therapy. Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an intensive, short-term therapy aimed at reducing the likelihood of out-of-home placements and reoffending.

    During MST, the therapist meets with the young person and their family several times a week, implementing interventions to improve the systems that make up the young person’s home, school and social settings.

    Whilst several studies in American and Norwegian samples have produced results supporting its efficacy in reducing recidivism, no work has been conducted investigating how MST may alter neural systems known to be related to externalising behaviour, such as empathy, inhibition, and reward processing. By investigating how changes occur in neural systems related to these behaviours we may better insight of the neural mechanisms underlying MST.

  • Aims

    • To investigate how Multisystemic Therapy may change EEG markers of feedback processing, inhibition, and empathy compared against Treatment As Usual (TAU).
    • To investigate how these EEG markers may differ between participants who went on to reoffend compared to those who didn’t.
    • To investigate how externalising adolescents who underwent MST and TAU compare against typically developing adolescents.
  • Methodology

    • Participants were asked to complete a couple of tasks whilst undergoing high density EEG.
    • The first task participants completed was a motor imitation task evoking EEG markers related to empathy and inhibition.
    • Secondly, participants were asked to complete a competitive reaction time game against other people their age to evoke feedback related neural activity.
    • Participants were also asked to report on aggression and personality measures.
  • Predicted Findings

    Externalising behaviour has been associated with increased sensitivity to reward and decreased sensitivity to punishment (an inbalance known as Reward Dominance), inability to inhibit action, and reduced empathy.

    As Multisystemic Therapy has been associated with lower rates of recidivism in juvenile offenders in the past, we may also expect to a reduction of neural markers reflective of Reward Dominance, and stronger neural markers of inhibition and empathy.

    Furthermore, we may expect these findings to differ within treatment groups, with altered EEG markers amongst adolescents who went on to reoffend after treatment compared against those who did not.