Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 9, pp 4115–4124 | Cite as

Sex differences in the neural correlates of aggression

  • Jonathan ReppleEmail author
  • Ute Habel
  • Lisa Wagels
  • Christina M. Pawliczek
  • Frank Schneider
  • Nils Kohn
Original Article


Although sex differences in aggression have been investigated for decades, little is known about the underlying neurobiology of this phenomenon. To address this gap, the present study implemented a social reactive aggression paradigm in 20 women and 22 men, employing a modified Taylor Aggression Task (mTAT) to provoke aggressive behavior in an fMRI setting. Subjects were provoked by money subtraction from a fake opponent and given the opportunity to retaliate likewise. In the absence of behavioral differences, male and female subjects showed differential brain activation patterns in response to provocation. Men had higher left amygdala activation during high provocation. This amygdala activation correlated with trait anger scores in men, but not in women. Also, men showed a positive association between orbitofrontal cortex, rectal gyrus and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity in the provocation contrast and their tendency to respond aggressively, whereas women displayed a negative association. As the rectal gyrus and OFC have been attributed a crucial role in automatic emotion regulation, this finding points toward the assumption that highly aggressive men use automatic emotion regulation to a greater extent in response to provocation compared to highly aggressive women.


Sex Gender differences Imaging Aggression Impulsivity Inhibition 



The authors thank all subjects for participation. The study was supported by the German Research Foundation (IRTG 1328, DFG), IZKF Aachen (Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research within the Faculty of Medicine at the RWTH Aachen University, N4-4) and the Brain Imaging Facility of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Clinical Research within the Faculty of Medicine at the RWTH Aachen University, Germany.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare no conflict of interest.

Research involving human participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

429_2018_1739_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 13 KB)
429_2018_1739_MOESM2_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 13 KB)
429_2018_1739_MOESM3_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 12 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical SchoolMünster UniversityMünsterGermany
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Medical SchoolRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  3. 3.JARA-Institute Brain Structure Function RelationshipResearch Center Juelich and RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine 10Research Center JuelichJuelichGermany
  5. 5.Department for Cognitive NeuroscienceDonders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, RadboudumcNijmegenThe Netherlands

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