Biological Basis of Violent Behavior Deserves Attention

Listen online to WBUR-FM, Boston's NPR news station, on Monday morning at 6:50 am for an interview with Dr. Bruce Price, neurology chief, who will discuss a paper he wrote on biology and violence.

February 8, 2001 -- Belmont, MA --  An ongoing spate of workplace shootings and violence committed by children and adults has many Americans asking how we, as a society, can prevent such horrific acts.

However, a more complete understanding into the causes and solutions of violent behavior will not prevail without further research into the role played by the brain. That is the consensus of an international group of clinicians and researchers of violent behavior, writing in the current issue of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neurology.

"In the opinion of some of the world’s best researchers, there are neurobiological factors, in addition to sociological determinants, that contribute to violence," said Bruce Price, MD, chief of Neurology at McLean Hospital and one of the authors of the paper.

"We are charting new territory in terms of understanding what we know about violence, what we don't know and what we need to know."

An appreciation of the role of the brain and its control of behavior must be included in the understanding of violence, the group agreed. Violence can result from brain dysfunction, although social and evolutionary factors are also important. The group recommended studies of the neurobehavioral aspects of violence, particularly frontal lobe dysfunction, altered serotonin metabolism and the influence of heredity.

The multidisciplinary group participants represented leading opinion in neurology, neuropsychology, psychiatry, trauma surgery, nursing, evolutionary psychology, medical ethics and law. The paper was a critical summary of knowledge regarding the impact of brain dysfunction on the potential for violent behavior, with a focus on interpersonal violence.

Co-authors on the paper included colleagues from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of South Africa Institute for Social and Health Sciences and World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Injury and Violence Prevention, among others.