The purpose of this study was to investigate the neural correlates of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for externalizing behavior problems in perpetrators of school bullying using assessments of brain activity and behavior. Twenty-five adolescent bullies participated in an 8-session intervention. Prior to and after participation, 24 adolescents were evaluated using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and 23 completed resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. Changes in the fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (fALFF) and scores on the CBCL were analyzed. We also compared the identified changes into 2 groups (low and high delinquency) differentiated by a cutoff of 65 points on the delinquency subscale of the CBCL. Following the intervention, participants exhibited improvement in the subscores of the CBCL and decreases in the fALFF of the inferior parietal lobule, lingual, interior frontal and middle occipital gyrus. A positive correlation was observed between changes in the CBCL externalizing behavior scores and fALFF of the inferior frontal gyrus. The high delinquency group showed a greater decrease in delinquency and externalizing CBCL subscores across time than did the low delinquency group. The high delinquency group had more areas that showed change in fALFF post-intervention than did the low delinquency group. A positive correlation was observed between changes in the CBCL delinquency scores and fALFF of the precentral gyrus in the high delinquency group. The results indicate that this CBT for externalizing behavior problems in bullies had more positive effects on delinquent behavior in adolescents with high levels of delinquency, and these changes were associated with functional changes in brain activity.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02670876