, Volume 178, Issue 1, pp 100–106 | Cite as

The effects of diazepam on human self-aggressive behavior

  • Mitchell E. BermanEmail author
  • Gabriele D. Jones
  • Michael S. McCloskey
Original Investigation



Diazepam, a benzodiazepine with a relatively rapid onset of clinical effects, has been associated with suicide and other self-aggressive acts. The evidence for this association, however, comes exclusively from retrospective non-experimental studies. Although suggestive, the results of these studies do not support a cause-and-effect relationship between benzodiazepine consumption and self-aggressive behavior.


To experimentally examine the effect of diazepam on human self-aggressive behavior under controlled laboratory conditions.


Forty-six healthy men and women were randomly assigned to receive placebo, or 5 mg or 10 mg diazepam in a double-blind, between-groups design. Participants were then provided the opportunity to self-administer electric shocks during a competitive reaction-time task (the self-aggression paradigm, SAP). Self-aggression was defined by the intensity of shock chosen.


Diazepam (10 mg) was associated with higher average shock self-administered than placebo. Subjects receiving 10 mg diazepam were also more likely to attempt to self-administer a shock that they were led to believe was “severe” and painful. Sedation effects were found, but diazepam consumption did not impair memory, attention, concentration, pain threshold, or reaction-time performance.


Clinically relevant diazepam doses may be associated with self-aggressive behaviors at levels that do not significantly impair basic cognitive processes or psychomotor performance.


Diazepam Self-aggressive behavior Laboratory measures 



This study was supported in part by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH57133) and the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation. The authors thank Virginia Crawford for serving as medical director for this study. The authors complied with all laws of the United States during the conduct of this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mitchell E. Berman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gabriele D. Jones
    • 1
  • Michael S. McCloskey
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  2. 2.The University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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