THE SYMPTOMS are common.

Unpredictable mood swings, the inability to communicate in words, perfecting the art of grunting.

The teenage years are not the most enjoyable.

But now Southampton scientists are leading the way in understanding why the behaviour is so extreme in some cases.

The University of Southampton will be part of a multi-million pound study to explore the causes of a condition called Conduct Disorder.

Antisocial Conduct Disorder (CD) has been identified as a psychological condition that affects children and adolescents of both genders and is associated with aggressive and antisocial behaviour.

The University is one of 13 research institutions across Europe that will share over £4.8 million of European Union funding to conduct a large-scale study of girls with CD starting in late childhood up to 18.

The four-year project will look into the causes of the condition, which has been on the rise both in Europe and the United States.

Typical problems associated with CD include teenage pregnancy, difficulties integrating into working life, drug abuse, delinquency and chronic health problems. It is also related to school dropout and truancy rates.

They are, in fact, similar symptoms to those portrayed by the wayward teenage character Vicky Pollard played by Matt Lucas in the hit TV comedy Little Britain.

It is hoped the study will shed some light on what actually causes some of the more profound character traits and in future limit their severity.

“It costs society ten times as much to raise children with CD to adulthood as children without the condition, and they are at greater risk of developing mental and physical health problems in adulthood,” says Dr Graeme Fairchild, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of the Southampton.

“The FemNAT-CD study will involve studying the development of the brain and the body’s stress system in children and teenagers with Conduct Disorder.

“We will also study a range of risk factors for antisocial behaviour such as bullying, migration, post-natal depression in mothers and negative peer influences.”

The University of Southampton has received almost £400,000 of the total funds to carry out the study, which will begin this summer. The majority of research into CD has historically centred on boys, as it is more common in males.

Around three per cent of girls suffer from the condition, which is especially common in the teenage years.

The study will examine the relationship between genetic factors and environmental influences, amongst others such as the influence of stress hormones and the nervous system.

Dr Fairchild added: “This may also enable us to identify protective factors present in girls that might be harnessed to help children of both sexes from developing aggressive or antisocial behaviour.”