"Long before it's in the papers"
January 13, 2016


People prone to rage attacks found to have smaller “emotional brains”

Jan. 13, 2016
Courtesy of Elsevier journals
and World Science staff

Peo­ple who are prone to rage at­tacks have smaller “emo­tional brains,” ac­cord­ing to a new study based on brain scans.

Re­search­ers con­clud­ed that peo­ple with this con­di­tion, called in­ter­mit­tent ex­plo­sive dis­or­der, have less “gray mat­ter”—brain tis­sue made of nerve cell­s—in the so-called fron­to­lim­bic re­gions of the brain, struc­tures that reg­u­late emo­tions.

These brain ar­eas play an im­por­tant role in the bi­ol­o­gy of ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists. An ar­ti­cle on the new find­ings is pub­lished in the in­au­gu­ral is­sue of the jour­nal Bi­o­log­i­cal Psy­chi­a­try: Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­sci­ence and Neu­roimag­ing.

The find­ings “sug­gest that dis­rupted de­vel­op­ment of the brain’s emotion-regulating cir­cuit­ry may un­der­lie an in­di­vid­u­al’s propens­ity for rage and ag­gres­sion,” said the jour­nal’s ed­i­tor, Cam­er­on Cart­er of the Un­ivers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, Da­vis.

In­ter­mit­tent ex­plo­sive dis­or­der is de­fined as “re­cur­rent, prob­lem­at­ic, im­pul­sive ag­gres­sion,” ex­plained Emil Coc­caro of the Un­ivers­ity of Chi­ca­go, the ar­ti­cle’s lead au­thor. 

“While more com­mon than bi­po­lar dis­or­der and schiz­o­phre­nia com­bined, many in the sci­en­tif­ic and lay com­mun­i­ties be­lieve that im­pul­sive ag­gres­sion is simply ‘bad be­hav­ior’ that re­quires an ‘at­ti­tude ad­just­ment.’”

But the new da­ta con­firm that the con­di­tion is “a brain dis­or­der and not simply a dis­or­der of ‘per­sonal­ity,’” he added. More gen­er­al­ly, smaller fron­tolim­bic gray mat­ter vol­ume cor­re­lates to more ag­gres­sion, he said.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors col­lect­ed high-resolution brain scans in 168 people, in­clud­ing 57 sub­jects with the dis­or­der, 53 healthy con­trol sub­jects, and 58 psy­chi­at­ric con­trol sub­jects. Us­ing the scans, tak­en with the tech­nique known as mag­net­ic res­o­nance im­ag­ing, the re­search­ers said they found a di­rect link be­tween his­to­ry of ac­tu­al ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior and smaller gray mat­ter vol­ume.

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People who are prone to rage attacks have smaller “emotional brains,” according to a new study based on brain scans. Researchers concluded that people with this condition, called intermittent explosive disorder, have less “gray matter”—brain tissue made of nerve cells—in the so-called frontolimbic regions of the brain, structures that regulate emotions. These brain areas play an important role in the biology of aggressive behavior, according to scientists. An article on the new findings is published in the inaugural issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. The findings “suggest that disrupted development of the brain’s emotion-regulating circuitry may underlie an individual’s propensity for rage and aggression,” said the journal’s editor, Cameron Carter of the University of California, Davis. Intermittent explosive disorder is defined as “recurrent, problematic, impulsive aggression,” explained Emil Coccaro of the University of Chicago, the article’s lead author. “While more common than bipolar disorder and schizophrenia combined, many in the scientific and lay communities believe that impulsive aggression is simply ‘bad behavior’ that requires an ‘attitude adjustment.’“ But the new data confirm that the condition is “a brain disorder and not simply a disorder of ‘personality,’“ he added. More generally, smaller frontolimbic gray matter volume correlates to more aggression, he said. The investigators collected high-resolution brain scans in 168 subjects, including 57 subjects with the disorder, 53 healthy control subjects, and 58 psychiatric control subjects. Using the scans, taken with the technique known as magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers said they found a direct link between history of actual aggressive behavior and smaller gray matter volume. brains”