Thursday, November 29, 2007

The cure to pathological aggression?

Researchers in the Netherlands have been studying the aggressive behaviour in feral rats and have recently come up with a "cure" for this type of behaviour. Male feral rats are aggressive in nature however, they will not attack female rats or anesthetized male rats they don't see as a threat. The scientists altered the aggressive behaviour of the male feral rats be repeatedly exposing them to other weak male rats whom they were bound to win a fight with. After repeatedly winning these fights for weeks, the male rats seemed to become a lot more violently, attacking weak males and females that were put in it's cage.
The researchers noticed that the hyper-aggressive males had decreased levels of serotonin in their brains. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to violent behaviour, and unusually violent people have been found to have lower levels of serotonin in their spinal fluid.
Researchers then experimented with altering the serotonin levels in the rats. The use of certain compounds brought the rats serotonin levels and aggressive behaviour back in check. Similarly, the aggression behaviors of particularly docile rats could be brought back to normal levels. The compound does not make the animals drowsy or lethargic like tranquillizers, but simply alters their aggressiveness.
Although this could be a step towards unlocking the clues to pathological violence in humans, the researchers doubt the compound could work entirely because it only targets a single brain receptor. The study does help scientists further understand the connection between serotonin levels and violent behavior. Similar studies about aggression have been conducted, and soon we will perhaps have a better understanding of human and animal aggression.

Posted by: Emily King (10)


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