Neuropsychology of Violence

This review compiles recent studies, offering several explanations for abusive violence. The authors investigated the patterns of neuropsychological deficits in men who committed violent acts against women. They identified several potential causes for neuropsychological impairments, such as alcohol abuse or traumatic brain injury. That said, it is often difficult to determine which parts of the brain are most adversely affected and how exactly the deficits contribute to violent behavior.
One study found that abusers had difficulty with memory tasks, and had increased forgetfulness of their own violent acts, potentially explaining why these acts of violence may occur multiple times. Other studies suggest that abusers have a decreased IQ, and struggle to see things from more than one perspective, meaning they may become more quickly frustrated and resort to violence. Research has demonstrated that abusers with psychopathic traits have a significantly decreased ability to read and understand the emotions of others, including expressions of fear. The combination of inability to decode emotion along with failure to see things from the victims perspective can lead to hostile feelings. Research shows that head injury is a significant risk factor for violent behavior. In fact, head injury and low verbal IQ better predict physical abuse than socio-demographic factors such as income, age, and education level. This does not mean that traumatic brain injury is sufficient to explain all neuropsychological deficits in abusers. However, head injury is positively related to alcohol abuse, and the combination of these variables lead to an exponentially increased likelihood for aggressive behavior.

Regarding brain structures and regions are implicated in violence, several regions are altered as a result of child abuse, such as the amygdala, cerebellum, corpus callosum, and hippocampus, and may also play in role in the perpetuation of abusive behavior. Damage to the hippocampus may also explain memory and attention deficiencies demonstrated by some abusers. Despite the difficulties in identifying brain regions, understanding the neurophysiology of violence will facilitate new and innovative ways to prevent and treat abusive behaviors.

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