Developmental effects of aggressive behavior in male adolescents assessed with structural and functional brain imaging

Maren Strenziok, Frank Krueger, Armin Heinecke, Rhoshel K. Lenroot, Kristine M. Knutson, Elke van der Meer, Jordan Grafman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Aggressive behavior is common during adolescence. Although aggression-related functional changes in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and frontopolar cortex (FPC) have been reported in adults, the neural correlates of aggressive behavior in adolescents, particularly in the context of structural neurodevelopment, are obscure. We used functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the blood oxygenation level-depended signal and cortical thickness. In a block-designed experiment, 14-17-year old adolescents imagined aggressive and non-aggressive interactions with a peer. We show reduced vmPFC activation associated with imagined aggressive behavior as well as enhanced aggression-related activation and cortical thinning in the FPC with increasing age. Changes in FPC activation were also associated with judgments of the severity of aggressive acts. Reduced vmPFC activation was associated with greater aggression indicating its normal function is to exert inhibitory control over aggressive impulses. Concurrent FPC activation likely reflects foresight of harmful consequences that result from aggressive acts. The correlation of age-dependent activation changes and cortical thinning demonstrates ongoing maturation of the FPC during adolescence towards a refinement of social and cognitive information processing that can potentially facilitate mature social behavior in aggressive contexts. Published by Oxford University Press 2009.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsp036
Pages (from-to)2-11
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Cortical thickness
  • Frontopolar cortex
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Trait anger
  • Ventromedial prefrontal cortex
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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