Alcohol Doesn’t Cause Aggression By Simple Disinhibition Interview with:
“Alcohol” by zeevveez is licensed under CC BY 2.0Thomas Denson PhD

University of New South Wales
Australia What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Decades of research have shown that alcohol is a powerful psychotropic contributor to aggressive behaviour. Researchers have long suspected that alcohol increases aggression because it dampens activation in the prefrontal cortex, which leads to reduced inhibition, narrows attentional processing, and exaggerates hostile thinking. However, direct evidence has been lacking. We compared brain activity in intoxicated versus sober participants when they were given the opportunity to behave aggressively in the scanner against other men who provoked them.

We gave 50 healthy young men alcohol or a placebo. Participants who consumed alcohol breathalysed at .05. They did show decreased activation in the prefrontal cortex as expected. This was the first evidence to show that when intoxicated participants behave aggressively, they show reduced prefrontal activity. Interestingly, we found a positively correlation between prefrontal cortex activity and aggression, but only among intoxicated men. We think this reflects the fact that the participants in the alcohol condition were likely engaging in more hostile thinking about the provoking men. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Alcohol doesn’t seem to cause aggression via simple disinhibition. The prefrontal cortex is implicated in numerous social behaviours and in this case may to be related to alcohol-induced aggression via both disinhibition and hostile cognition. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future work examining women and people with alcohol use disorder would be informative. People with alcohol use disorders are at increased risk for violence.


Thomas F. Denson, Kate A. Blundell, Timothy P. Schofield, Mark M. Schira, Ulrike M. Krämer. The neural correlates of alcohol-related aggression. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 2018; DOI: 10.3758/s13415-017-0558-0

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Last Updated on February 14, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD