In rats, stress hormones lower threshold for aggression and aggression raises stress hormones; data may lead help to break the cycle of violence
Scientists may be learning why its so hard to stop the cycle of violence. The answer may lie in the nervous system. There appears to be a fast, mutual, positive feedback loop between stress hormones and a brain-based aggression-control center in rats, whose neurophysiology is similar to ours. It may explain why, under stress, humans are so quick to lash out and find it hard to cool down. The findings, which could point to better ways to prevent pathological violence, appear in the October issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
In five experiments using 53 male rats, behavioral neuroscientists from the Netherlands and Hungary studied whether stimulating the brains aggression mechanism raised blood levels of a stress hormone and whether higher levels of the same hormone led to the kind of aggression elicited by that mechanism. The results showed a fast-acting feedback loop; the mechanism works in both directions and raising one variable raises the other. Thus, stress and aggression may be mutually reinforcing, which could explain not only why something like the stress of traffic jams leads to road rage, but also why raging triggers an ongoing stress reaction that makes it hard to stop.
Pam Willenz | EurekAlert!
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