Tit-for-tat: The neural basis of reactive aggression

Department of Neuropsychology, Otto-von-Guericke University, Universitätsplatz 2, 39106, Magdeburg, Germany.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.36). 11/2007; 38(1):203-11. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.07.029
Source: PubMed


Aggressive behavior is a basic form of human social interaction, yet little is known about its neural substrates. We used a laboratory task to investigate the neural correlates of reactive aggression using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The task is disguised as a reaction-time competition between the subject and two opponents and entitles the winner to punish the loser. It seeks to elicit aggression by provocation of the subject. As each single trial in this task is separated into a decision phase, during which the severity of the prospective punishment of the opponent is set, and an outcome phase, during which the actual punishment is applied or received, the paradigm enables us to analyze the neural events during each of these phases. Specific neural responses in areas related to negative affect, cognitive control and reward processing provide additional information about the cognitive, emotional and motivational processes underlying reactive aggressive behavior and afford us with the possibility to test and expand theories on aggression such as the General Aggression Model.

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Available from: Ulrike Krämer
    • "In other words, aggression was highest at high levels instigation (social rejection), low levels of inhibition (sugar substitute beverage), and high levels of impellance (high rejection sensitivity). Aggression is a rewarding behavior that activates pleasure centers of the brain, such as the striatum and the nucleus accumbens (Chester & DeWall, 2014; Kr€ amer et al., 2007). Glucose produces a similar effect, with one crucial exception: in addition to stimulating reward centers, glucose increases neural activation in brain regions that aid self-regulation (Chambers et al., 2009), which is likely the underlying mechanism to our findings. "
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    ABSTRACT: Social rejection can increase aggression, especially among people high in rejection sensitivity. Rejection impairs self-control, and deficits in self-control often result in aggression. A dose of glucose can counteract the effect of situational factors that undermine self-control. But no research has integrated these literatures to understand why rejection increases aggression, and how to reduce it. Using the I(3) model of aggression, we proposed that aggression would be highest under conditions of high instigation (rejection), high impellance (high rejection sensitivity), and low inhibition (drinking a beverage sweetened with a sugar substitute instead of glucose). As predicted, aggression was highest among participants who experienced social rejection, were high in rejection sensitivity, and drank a placebo beverage. A dose of glucose reduced aggression, especially among rejected people high in rejection sensitivity. These findings point to the importance of self-control in understanding why social rejection increases aggression, and how to prevent it. Aggr. Behav. 9999:1-7, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Aggressive Behavior
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    • "More recently, neuroscientific research has identified potential neural substrates underlying aggression as one form of (anti)social behavior. Brain researcher studies have investigated behavioral aggression in healthy adults (Krämer et al., 2007, 2011; Lotze et al., 2007), adolescents (White et al., 2013) and psychopaths (Veit et al., 2010): neural networks associated with aggression included various regions within prefrontal cortex, the insular cortex, the cingulate cortex, striatal areas and the amygdala (Krämer et al., 2007, 2011; Lotze et al., 2007; Veit et al., 2010; White et al., 2013). Subsequently, attempts have been made to relate these brain networks to other executive networks. "
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    ABSTRACT: Aggressive behavior poses a threat to human collaboration and social safety. It is of utmost importance to identify the functional mechanisms underlying aggression and to develop potential interventions capable of reducing dysfunctional aggressive behavior already at a brain level. We here experimentally shifted fronto-cortical asymmetry to manipulate the underlying motivational emotional states in both male and female participants while assessing the behavioral effects on proactive and reactive aggression. Thirty-two healthy volunteers received either anodal transcranial direct current stimulation to increase neural activity within right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or sham stimulation. Aggressive behavior was measured with the Taylor Aggression Paradigm (TAP). We revealed a general gender effect, showing that males displayed more behavioral aggression than females. After the induction of right fronto-hemispheric dominance, proactive aggression was reduced in males. The current study demonstrates that non-invasive brain stimulation can reduce aggression in males. This is a relevant and promising step to better understand how cortical brain states connect to impulsive actions and to examine the causal role of the prefrontal cortex in aggression. Ultimately such findings could help to examine whether the brain can be a direct target for potential supportive interventions in clinical settings dealing with overly aggressive patients and/or violent offenders. © The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email:
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2015 · Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
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    • "In humans, punishing someone for a transgression can evoke a feeling of reward. The latter instance is demonstrated in the Taylor Aggression paradigm, where reactive elements of aggression are operationalized in terms of punishment with provocation, reactive aggression activates reward-related subcortical areas such as the ventral striatum (De Quervain et al., 2004; Krämer et al., 2007). "
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    ABSTRACT: Aggressive behavior is thought to divide into two motivational elements: The first being a self-defensively motivated aggression against threat and a second, hedonically motivated "appetitive" aggression. Appetitive aggression is the less understood of the two, often only researched within abnormal psychology. Our approach is to understand it as a universal and adaptive response, and examine the functional neural activity of ordinary men (N = 50) presented with an imaginative listening task involving a murderer describing a kill. We manipulated motivational context in a between-subjects design to evoke appetitive or reactive aggression, against a neutral control, measuring activity with Magnetoencephalography (MEG). Results show differences in left frontal regions in delta (2-5 Hz) and alpha band (8-12 Hz) for aggressive conditions and right parietal delta activity differentiating appetitive and reactive aggression. These results validate the distinction of reward-driven appetitive aggression from reactive aggression in ordinary populations at the level of functional neural brain circuitry.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2014 · Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
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