Reactive aggression after interpersonal provocation is a common behavior in humans. Little is known, however, about brain regions and neurotransmitters critical for the decision-making and affective processes involved in aggressive interactions. With the present fMRI study, we wanted to examine the role of serotonin in reactive aggression by means of an acute tryptophan depletion (ATD). Participants performed in a competitive reaction time task (Taylor Aggression Paradigm, TAP) which entitled the winner to punish the loser. The TAP seeks to elicit aggression by provocation. The study followed a double-blind between-subject design including only male participants. Behavioral data showed an aggression diminishing effect of ATD in low trait-aggressive participants, whereas no ATD effect was detected in high trait-aggressive participants. ATD also led to reduced insula activity during the decision phase, independently of the level of provocation. Whereas previous reports have suggested an inverse relationship between serotonin level and aggressive behavior with low levels of serotonin leading to higher aggression and vice versa, such a simple relationship is inconsistent with the current data.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)