The Human Brain and Aggression


The parts of the brain brought to you by two cartoon lab mice; Pinky and the Brain.

Human aggression is so wide spread in the Western world it’s prompted research into the effects of brain stimulation with electrical stimulus. Research has shown us stimulation of the amygdala in cats results in attack behavior. The physiological signs of rage, as well as erection of the hair, elevation of blood pressure, increased respiration also occur. What is striking about the behavior is that it is directed. A cat will attack a rat in a cage and even stalk it. The behavior is not automatic or inflexible. In monkeys, this effect is even more striking. Unlike cats, monkeys are social creatures. Stimulation elicits attack behavior only if a safe object is present. A rhesus monkey will not attack a social superior, but it will attack an inferior or stuffed toy tiger. Stimulation that will elicit aggressive behavior of a dominant monkey toward a subordinate or submissive one will altogether fail to induce such behavior in the same animal in the presence of a newly introduced dominant animal. Indeed, the formerly dominant monkey now exhibits all the signs of submissive behavior. The animal simply does not react in an automatic manner, but evaluates the situation and responds with the appropriate behavior. In humans, stimulation in certain areas of the brain produces feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, fright, and horror, but it does not elicit attack. One woman reported she wanted to slap the experimenter, but she did not do so.

This information is of particular interest and it is provocative to ponder. It should be emphasized the production of aggressive attack behavior by brain stimulation in experimental animals does not presents a good model for what goes on in the human brain. What can be concluded is the presence of a higher governing executive authority known as “social conscious awareness.” Human beings are more likely to respond to social situations with socially acceptable behaviors, even under the duress of stressors like artificial stimulation.

The laboratory findings show that in experimental animals fear, rage, and attack can be evoked in many, but not in all subjects by stimulation of specific locations in the brain. And this is possible because stimulation bypasses the normal sensory channels and directly activates parts of the brain that would be activated if the individual actually were in a frightening, unpleasant, or dangerous situation. However, the reason why stimulation can elicit these responses is that the individual has had such experiences in the past – that is, he or she has been in frightening, unpleasant, or dangerous situations – and these particular areas of the brain were activated on those occasions. Subsequently one can fool the individual into thinking that the same environmental events are presented by electrically stimulating the regions of the brain that were active on those earlier occasions.

It is important to note that even when one taps right into the system of stimulation, the resulting behavior is by no means automatic. The cat attacks the first thing it sees. It makes the “logical” inference that if it is experiencing fright or anger, and possibly even pain, whatever it sees near it is responsible, and it acts accordingly. The monkey may draw the same inference, but its decision to attack or not is based on the social status of the other monkey who is present. A human carries this process further. A human may recognize the fact that the individual who is present is not necessarily responsible for the unpleasant sensations; and, second, even if that individual is seen to be responsible – for example, the experimenter who turned on the current – even then, social constraints prevent a direct attack. It is clear, then, that definite parts of the brain are involved in aggression, and it is equally clear that stimulation of these areas does not result in automatic, thoughtless aggression divorced from the animal’s past experience.

Conscious awareness and the extended time required for human beings to rear their offspring provides humanity the function and time needed to help install conscious awareness, also known as the superego, in their individual offspring. Even at the end of eighteen or twenty-two years of age, we still are not finished practicing. We have spiritual practice to help aid, guide, and further facilitate the necessary equipment for strong social bonding.


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