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J Neurosci. 2008 Mar 12;28(11):2719-25. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0033-08.2008.

Appetitive motivation predicts the neural response to facial signals of aggression.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge CB2 7EF, United Kingdom.


The "behavioral approach system" (BAS) (Gray, 1990) has been primarily associated with reward processing and positive affect. However, additional research has demonstrated that the BAS plays a role in aggressive behavior, heightened experience of anger, and increased attention to facial signals of aggression. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that variation in the BAS trait in healthy participants predicts activation in neural regions implicated in aggression when participants view facial signals of aggression in others. Increased BAS drive (appetitive motivation) was associated with increased amygdala activation and decreased ventral anterior cingulate and ventral striatal activation to facial signals of aggression, relative to sad and neutral expressions. In contrast, increased behavioral inhibition was associated with increased activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate, a region involved in the perception of fear and threat. Our results provide the first demonstration that appetitive motivation constitutes a significant factor governing the function of neural regions implicated in aggression, and have implications for understanding clinical disorders of aggression.

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