The Neurological Basis of Aggressive Behavior

Scandalous cases of crime, assault and excessive violence. Today we know that the environment in which a person grows and evolves and the very systems that make them up directly condition their development, however, and if we ask what happens at the neurological level for a person to develop behaviors more aggressive than another servant and educated in the same environment? In this article, we answer this question

Aggressive person shows activity in certain areas of the brain

Hypothalamus, testosterone and serotonin have been the main avenues of research related to aggression for years, but today various studies have shown how the stimulation exerted on the amygdala activates aggressive emotional reactions in the subject, As well as the inhibition of the same when acting on the prefrontal cortex.

On the ontological level, the maturation of the prefrontal cortex is later than that of the amygdala, which means that the individual later acquires the skills necessary for abstract reasoning, to make changes in attentional focus or even to develop the ability. inhibit inappropriate responses, such as aggression control, among others.

The greater the volume of the prefrontal cortex, the less aggressive behavior

Already in the late 1990s, it was suggested that increased activity in the amygdala led to greater negative behaviors, including greater aggression, as opposed to decreased activity of the prefrontal cortex offered less ability to control his emotions.

It was a study by Whittle et al. (2008) in adolescents, who ultimately concluded that the greater the volume of the prefrontal cortex, the less aggressive behavior was perceived in boys and unlike in the case of the amygdala, a larger volume responded to both more aggressive and reckless behaviors.

When Anthony Hopkins plays the character of Hannibal lecter a The Silence of the Lambs, shows an unusual temperament for a murderer, far from conveying an impulsive and emotional personality which is distinguished by a profile, calculating, cold and extremely rational, which escapes the explanation that we propose.

White matter in the prefrontal cortex and its relationship to aggression

So far, we have seen how an increase in amygdala activity and a decrease in the prefrontal cortex is ideal for describing a personality that is more impulsive, thoughtless and even with little ability in emotional management but how to explain typical characteristics. Hannibal?

In 2005, Yang et al. found that a decrease in white matter in the prefrontal cortex responded to a decrease in one’s own cognitive resources, Both to persuade or manipulate other people and to make decisions at specific times. Keeping the white matter intact would explain why Hannibal and other assassins with the same characteristics are able to control their behavior so masterfully, to make appropriate decisions in complex situations, always for their own benefit and to the point of achieving a fictitious authority.

Serotonin is the key to understanding aggressive behavior

As we said at the beginning, serotonin also plays a key role in this problem, in particular, a decrease in their activity is directly linked to the aggression and with the implementation of risky behavior. In 2004, New et al. showed that treatment with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) increased the activity of the prefrontal cortex, and that at the end of the year, the aggressive behavior of individuals was significantly reduced.

In summary, one can notice how an increase in serotonergic activity would increase the activity of the prefrontal cortex, which would cause an inhibition of the activity of the amygdala and consequently aggressive behaviors.

We are not slaves to our biology

Although knowing that the brain is not decisive in modulating aggression and these behaviors on its own, it is thanks to advances and numerous studies that we can explain its mechanism with regard to the neurological process. Guido Frank, scientist and physicist at the University of California points out that biology and behavior are subject to change and that by combining a good therapeutic process and adequate individualized control, the progress of each individual can be changed.

Ultimately, as neurologist Craig Ferris of Northeastern University in Boston, USA points out, we have to keep in mind that “we are not completely slaves to our biology.”

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