Anger provocation increases limbic and decreases medial prefrontal cortex connectivity with the left amygdala in reactive aggressive violent offenders

Nicolette Siep, Franca Tonnaer*, Vincent van de Ven, Arnoud Arntz, Adrian Raine, Maaike Cima

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Neurobiological models propose reactive aggression as a failure in emotion regulation, caused by an imbalance between prefrontal cortical control and excessive bottom-up signals of negative affect by limbic regions, including the amygdala. Therefore, we hypothesize a negative correlation between PFC and amygdala activity (pre/post resting-state scans) in violent offenders. In this study resting-state fMRI was administered before and after an emotion (anger and happiness) provocation or engagement task within 18 male violent offenders scoring high on reactive aggression, and 18 male non-offender controls. Research in emotional pre/post resting-state showed altered connectivity by task performance. Therefore, bilateral amygdala region of interest (ROI) whole brain functional connectivity analysis tested dynamic change differences between pre and post resting-state connectivity between groups. Self-reported anger showed a positive significant relationship with medial prefrontal cortex activity in the pre-task scan and significantly increased during the emotion task in both the violent and control group. Imaging results showed a significant decrease in amygdala - medial prefrontal functional connectivity in the violent offenders and an increase in the non-offender controls after the emotion task. The opposite pattern was found for amygdala connectivity with the (para) limbic regions: violent offenders showed increased connectivity and non-offender controls showed decreased connectivity. The present results indicate that reactive aggression might stem from a focus on emotion processing, as indicated by an increase in limbic functional connectivity. The combination of a focus on emotion, along with a lack of medial prefrontal cortex regulation, has the potential to grow out of control e.g. in reactive aggression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1311–1323
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number5
Early online date25 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Journal Article
  • Functional connectivity
  • Impulsive aggression
  • Emotion regulation
  • Resting-state fMRI
  • Amygdala seed


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