Curbing Aggression with Electrical Brain Stimulation

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A recent study released earlier this month by researchers at University of Pennsylvania suggests transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can be used to reduce aggressive behavior linked to the likelihood of physical and sexual assault, and even increase the likelihood of the user to judge aggressive acts morally wrongful.

In a double-blinded, stratified, placebo-controlled, randomized trial, 81 adults were randomized to either receive a placebo stimulation session or a session consisting of bilateral anodal stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). A series of tests and tasks meant to quantify level of aggression were subsequently performed by each individual. It was determined that individuals who underwent the bilateral anodal stimulation were less likely to commit an act of aggression the next day. Researchers linked this response with the subject's increased tendency to rate these aggressive acts as morally wrong.

"Findings provide experimental evidence for the role of the prefrontal cortex on both physical and sexual assault, and suggest how the brain may, in theory, be amenable to change using a non-invasive tool with transient and relatively minor adverse effects" Choy et al. wrote. They stress however, that "a stronger evidence base which includes more consistent findings, documentation of long-term beneficial effects, and a comprehensive effort to rule out potentially aversive side effects is required before this technique can be considered in practice to reduce aggression perpetration." Nevertheless, the results of this study further supports the role of the prefrontal cortex in regulating aggression and the perception of such acts; as well as alludes to the many potential applications of tDCS as a treatment option.