Tourette’s syndrome is associated with impulsive and sometimes problematic behavior. This unpredictability has contributed to the belief that individuals with the disorder are more aggressive than the average person.
A new study from Hungary, however, refutes this assumption and shows that people with Tourette’s are no more aggressive than anyone else, and in fact may even be less aggressive.
“We found that Tourette’s patients were no more aggressive than the general population,” said lead researcher Dr. Péter Nagy, child psychiatrist at Vadaskert. “Tourette’s patients can show motor tics, like grimacing or arm movements, or certain vocal tics, and people may assume that this is an expression of suppressed or overt aggression.”
“This is in fact not the case. The problem is not one of aggression, but of understanding; Tourette’s patients need support and acceptance, not rejection or fear.”
The study was conducted at the Vadaskert Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital in Budapest. Researchers observed three groups of male participants: 87 with Tourette’s, 161 with ADHD, and 494 from a general clinical population. They also had data from a healthy control group.
All participants were given a series of tests, which assessed two major aspects of aggression: “cold” (calculated, callous, unemotional aggression) and “hot” (impulsive, explosive aggression).
Some of the findings were surprising. Patients with Tourette’s proved to be less aggressive, regarding both hot and cold aggression, than the general clinical population or patients with ADHD. In fact, their aggressive traits were comparable with those of the healthy control population.
The mean of parent-rated aggression scores was 25.0 in the Tourette’s population, and 23.5 among healthy controls, whereas the mean of the same scale was 35.1 in the general child psychiatric population, and even as high as 36.9 among ADHD patients.
The mean of self-rated aggression scores was 9.5, both among Tourette’s patients and healthy controls, but child psychiatric patients in general and ADHD patients both scored quite a bit higher on the scale (14.3 and 14.1, respectively).
“We need to increase the knowledge of families, teachers and primary practitioners on the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome, to improve their understanding of the disorder,” said Dr. Josefina Castro-Fornieles at the University of Barcelona and a member of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Child and Adolescent Disorders Scientific Advisory Panel.
“This kind of study can help us to break down some of the mistaken ideas that both professionals and society have about this condition. This is especially important if we consider the psychosocial consequences in children and adolescents.”
The findings were presented at the ECNP Congress in Vienna.