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Alexithymia and reactive aggression: The role of the amygdala

Highlights•Alexithymia is associated with reactive aggression, but not proactive aggression.•Alexithymia, reactive aggression, and amygdala volume are positively associated.•Controlling for amygdala volume, alexithymia is unrelated to reactive aggression.•Amygdala volume partly explains the alexithymia-reactive aggression relationship.AbstractPast research suggests an association between reactive aggression and alexithymia, but neural mechanisms underlying this association remain unknown. Furthermore, the relationship between proactive aggression and alexithymia remains untested. This study aimed to: (1) test whether alexithymia is more related to reactive than proactive aggression; and (2) determine whether amygdala, insula, and/or anterior cingulate cortical (ACC) volume could be neurobiological mechanisms for this association. One hundred and fifty-six community males completed the Reactive-Proactive Aggression Questionnaire and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. Amygdala, insula, and ACC volumes were assessed using MRI. Alexithymia was positively associated with reactive but not proactive aggression. Alexithymia was positively and bilaterally associated with amygdala and anterior cingulate volumes. Reactive aggression was positively associated with right amygdala volume. Controlling for right amygdala volume rendered the alexithymia-reactive aggression relationship non-significant. Results suggest that increased right amygdala volume is a common neurobiological denominator for both alexithymia and reactive aggression. Findings suggest that greater right hemisphere activation may reflect a vulnerability to negative affect, which in turn predisposes to experiencing negative emotions leading to increased aggression. Findings are among the first to explicate the nature of the alexithymia-aggression relationship, with potential clinical implications.

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