NASHVILLE, Tenn.New research from Vanderbilt University shows for the first time that the brain processes aggression as a reward - much like sex, food and drugs - offering insights into our propensity to fight and our fascination with violent sports like boxing and football.
The research will be published online the week of Jan. 14 by the journal Psychopharmacology.
Aggression occurs among virtually all vertebrates and is necessary to get and keep important resources such as mates, territory and food, Craig Kennedy, professor of special education and pediatrics, said. We have found that the reward pathway in the brain becomes engaged in response to an aggressive event and that dopamine is involved.
It is well known that dopamine is produced in response to rewarding stimuli such as food, sex and drugs of abuse, Maria Couppis, who conducted the study as her doctoral thesis at Vanderbilt, said. What we have now found is that it also serves as positive reinforcement for aggression.
For the experiments, a pair of mice - one male, one female - was kept in one cage and five intruder mice were kept in a separate cage. The female mouse was temporarily removed, and an intruder mouse was introduced in its place, triggering an aggressive response by the home male mouse. Aggressive behavior included tail rattle, an aggressive sideways stance, boxing and biting.
The home mouse was then trained to poke a target with its nose to get the intruder to return, at which point it again behaved aggressively toward it. The home mouse consistently poked the trigger, which was presented once a day, indicating it experienced the aggressive encounter with the intruder as a reward.
The same home mice were then treated with a drug that suppressed their dopamine receptors. After this treatment, they decreased the frequency with which they instigated the intruders entry.
In a separate experiment, the mice were treated with the
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