Summary: Researchers report bullying behavior activates primary reward circuits in the brain, making it a pleasurable behavior to a certain subset of individuals.
Individual differences in the motivation to engage in or to avoid aggressive social interaction (bullying) are mediated by the basal forebrain, lateral habenula circuit in the brain, according to a study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published June 30 in the journal Nature.
The Mount Sinai study focuses on identifying the mechanisms by which specific brain reward regions interact to modulate the motivational or rewarding component of aggressive behavior using a mouse model.
Maladaptive aggressive behavior is associated with a number of psychiatric disorders and is thought to partly result from inappropriate activation of brain reward systems in response to aggressive or violent social stimuli. While previous research has implicated the basal forebrain as a potentially important brain reward region for aggression-related behaviors, there had been limited functional evidence that the basal forebrain, or its projections to other brain regions, directly controls the rewarding aspects of aggression.
“Our study is the first to demonstrate that bullying behavior activates a primary brain reward circuit that makes it pleasurable to a subset of individuals,” says Scott Russo, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Furthermore, we show that manipulating activity in this circuit alters the activity of brain cells and ultimately, aggression behavior.”
The study findings demonstrate a previously unidentified functional role for the lateral habenula and its inputs from the basal forebrain in mediating the rewarding component of aggression and suggest that targeting shared underlying deficits in motivational circuitry may provide useful information for the development of novel therapeutic drugs for treating aggression-related neuropsychiatric disorders.
In this modern day and seemingly open world paved by the Internet, you would think that people won’t have time to bully. Yet, it is still prevalent. Every day, you hear of bullying and of show of force. Is motivation to bully regulated by the brain?