Brain scans appear to show changes associated with violent behavior

June 6, 2011

A brain imaging study suggests that men with a history of violent behavior may have greater gray matter volume in certain brain areas, whereas men with a history of substance use disorders may have reduced gray matter volume in other brain areas, according to a report published online today by the Archives of General Psychiatry.

According to background information in the article, research suggests that violent behavior may stem from a complicated mix of biological, psychological, and . Studies of the brains of violent individuals have yielded preliminary information, yet scientists still have much to learn. "The interpretation of studies of the brain morphology of violent offenders is further limited by the fact that most of these men present with a substance use disorder (SUD)," write the authors. "Thus, teasing apart alterations in associated with persistent and those associated with SUDs presents an ongoing challenge."

Boris Schiffer, Ph.D., from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, and colleagues compared violent offenders, both with (12) and without SUDs (12), with nonviolent men, both with (13) and without SUDs (14). The first group was recruited from penitentiaries and forensic hospitals, and the second group was recruited from psychiatric outpatient programs and by advertisements and employment agencies. Experienced psychiatrists assessed the participants—all men between 23 and 54 years—for mental disorders, psychopathy, aggressive behavior, and impulsivity. All study participants underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging at a university hospital.

The researchers identified differences in the brains of men in the various categories. Participants with a history of violence and had a greater volume of in certain than nonviolent participants, regardless of a history of SUDs. The increases in gray matter volume among violent offenders appeared in the mesolimbic areas of the brain, which previous research suggests are linked to feelings of desire and reward as well as antisocial behavior and psychopathology. Further, gray matter decreases in other areas of the brain characterized men with SUDs regardless of a history of violence.

The larger gray matter volumes in participants with violent tendencies were associated with higher scores for psychopathy and lifelong aggressiveness, whereas the smaller volumes of gray matter in those with SUDs appeared to be related to response inhibition. Among men with SUDs, the study found smaller gray matter volume in areas of the brain that play a part in social behavior as well inhibition. The authors call for more research "to link the observed structural abnormalities to specific deficits in functioning assessed by both neuropsychological tests and behavior in the real world and to the interactions of genes and environmental factors."

Explore further: Violent video games reduce brain response to violence and increase aggressive behavior

More information: Arch Gen Psych. 2011; doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.61

Related Stories

Violent video games reduce brain response to violence and increase aggressive behavior

May 25, 2011
Scientists have known for years that playing violent video games causes players to become more aggressive. The findings of a new University of Missouri (MU) study provide one explanation for why this occurs: the brains of ...

Recommended for you

Depression changes structure of the brain, study suggests

July 21, 2017
Changes in the brain's structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.