Neuroethics Publications

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Journal Article

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The Journal of Neuroscience





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Although prefrontal brain impairments are one of the best-replicated brain imaging findings in relation to aggression, little is known about the causal role of this brain region. This study tests whether stimulating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) reduces the likelihood of engaging in aggressive acts, and the mechanism underlying this relationship. In a double-blind, stratified, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, randomized trial, 81 human adults (36 males, 45 females) were randomly assigned to an active (N = 39) or placebo (N = 42) condition, and then followed up 1 d after the experiment session. Intentions to commit aggressive acts and behavioral aggression were assessed using hypothetical vignettes and a behavioral task, respectively. The secondary outcome was the perception of the moral wrongfulness of the aggressive acts. Compared with the sham controls, participants who received anodal stimulation reported being less likely to commit physical and sexual assault (p < 0.01). They also judged aggressive acts as more morally wrong (p < 0.05). Perceptions of greater moral wrongfulness regarding the aggressive acts accounted for 31% of the total effect of tDCS on intentions to commit aggression. Results provide experimental evidence that increasing activity in the prefrontal cortex can reduce intentions to commit aggression and enhance perceptions of the moral wrongfulness of the aggressive acts. Findings shed light on the biological underpinnings of aggression and theoretically have the potential to inform future interventions for aggression and violence.

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This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0):

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Date Posted: 24 January 2020

This document has been peer reviewed.