Question: Why do people engage in aggressive behaviour (some, as we know, rather more than others)?
Answer: Because they enjoy it.
There’s a bit of a flutter on the internet (see here and here) about research coming out of Vanderbilt University. Studying mice, Maria Couppis and Craig Kennedy have found that aggression can be as emotionally rewarding as food or sex.
The neurotransmitter dopamine has been implicated in nearly every experience we consider rewarding, such as love, drugs, eating, and sex. Indeed, the mesolimbic dopamine pathway is referred to as the reward system of the brain. Dopamine is necessary for reinforcement, e.g. the ex-smoker’s craving brought about by the whiff of cigarette smoke.
Now a direct connection has been drawn between dopamine and aggression. In the experiement the male home mouse continually pushed a button to let in an intruder mouse which it then aggressed. When treated with a dopamine antagonist (blocking the activity of the dopamine) the home mouse decreased its button-pushing. (For a discussion of the experiment see here.)
(Incidentally, it is important not to conflate aggression and violence. Aggression is dominating behaviour. For the mice aggressive behavior included tail rattle, an aggressive sideways stance, boxing and biting – two non-violent and two non-violent behaviours.)
“We learned from these experiments that an individual will intentionally seek out an aggressive encounter solely because they experience a rewarding sensation from it,” Kennedy said. “This shows for the first time that aggression, on its own, is motivating, and that the well-known positive reinforcer dopamine plays a critical role.”
Not that surprising?
I suspect that lovefraud/blog readers who have been on the receiving end of aggression won’t be surprised by these findings. Says Dr. Bliss at Maggies’ farm, “I cannot speak about mice, but every psychiatrist – and every person – knows that this is a fact for human beings.”
A query I have is runs something like this. Many commentators on this blog speak of increased assertiveness, anger, determination, etc. which has enabled them to get through relationships with psychopaths, to gain self-respect, and to make new lives. Would you say that you have learned to better access aggression? And if so, is there pleasure in it?