In order to further understand the mechanisms involved in planning an aggressive act, we conducted an event-related potential (ERP) study of young men with and without a history of violence. Participants completed a competitive reaction time task (based on the Taylor aggression paradigm) against a virtual opponent. In "passive" blocks, participants were punished by the opponent when losing the trial but could not punish, when winning, whereas in "active" blocks, participants were able to punish the opponent when winning, but were not punished when losing. Participants selected punishment strength in a decision phase prior to each reaction time task and were informed whether they had won or lost in the outcome phase. Additionally, a flanker task was conducted to assess basic performance monitoring. Violent participants selected stronger punishments, especially in "active" blocks. During the decision phase, a frontal P200 was more pronounced for violent participants, whereas non-violent participants showed an enhanced frontal negativity around 300 ms. The P200 might reflect the decision to approach the opponent at a very early state, the latter negativity could reflect inhibition processes, leading to a more considerate reaction in non-violent participants. During the outcome phase, a Feedback-Related Negativity was seen in both groups. This effect was most pronounced when losing entailed a subsequent inability to retaliate. The groups did not differ in the flanker task, indicating intact basic performance monitoring. Our data suggest that the planning of an aggressive act is associated with distinct brain activity and that such activity is differentially represented in violent and non-violent individuals.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)