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Brain Stimulation Reduces Feelings of Aggression

Researchers propose that the method could be used to rein in violence.

Jul 3, 2018
Sukanya Charuchandra

Electrically zapping a region of the brain responsible for controlling behavior and making moral decisions reduces violent tendencies, according to a study published in The Journal of Neurosience yesterday (July 2). Researchers suggest these results may help formulate a way of mitigating aggression.  

“This study goes some way toward documenting a causal association by showing that enhancing the prefrontal cortex puts the brakes on the impulse to act aggressively,” Adrian Raine, a neurocriminologist at the University of Pennsylvania and coauthor on the paper, tells The Washington Post

The researchers gave “transcranial direct-current stimulation” to 81 individuals on the tops of their foreheads. While the test group was administered 20 minutes of electrical stimulation, the control group was given only 30 seconds of low current. Next, the subjects had to read two documents—one about a physical assault and the other, a sexual one. Following the reading, they were asked how likely they were to carry out a similar act. Those individuals that received the stimulation were 47 percent and 70 percent less likely to report being willing to commit physical and sexual violence, respectively, than those from the control group were.

According to The Post, Delaney Smith, a forensic psychiatrist in Columbus, Ohio, who was not involved in the study, says, “anything we can add to the armamentarium to counter future acts of violence, the better.”

Not everyone is convinced of the scope of the results. “What people say they will do with regard to violence and what they actually do may be two different things,” Paul Appelbaum, the director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not involved in this study, tells STAT News. The likelihood of reducing aggressive behavior in the real world using this technique has yet to be determined. 

Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, a psychologist at Queen Mary, University of London, who was not involved in the research, tells The Guardian that it’s possible stimulating this region of the brain might backfire.“It gives your brain a little push.”

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