Differences in Brain’s Gray Matter Discovered in Men with Violent Behavior

A new report suggests that men with a history of substance abuse have a different amount of gray matter in the brain than men with a tendency for violent behavior. Research points to several factors as the cause of violent behavior, including social stressors, psychological issues and even biological factors. Previous studies have examined the brains of people with violent behaviors before, but there is relatively little information thus far. “The interpretation of studies of the brain morphology of violent offenders is further limited by the fact that most of these men present with substance use (SUD),” write the authors. “Thus, teasing apart alterations in brain structure associated with persistent violent behavior and those associated with SUDs presents an ongoing challenge.”

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany and looked at the brain images of violent men who presented with SUDs and those without. It also included men who did not display violent behavior, with and without SUDs. The participants were selected from prisons and hospitals, as well psychiatric programs and agencies. The subjects were all evaluated by psychiatrists for underlying mental health problems, including impulsivity, psychopathy and aggressive tendencies. The participants, all men between the ages of 23 and 54 years old, were given MRI’s to determine the amount of gray matter present in their brains.

The results showed that there was a larger presence of gray matter in men with violent behavior, whether or not they were substance users. Additionally, the men who had no violent tendencies all showed a decrease in gray matter regardless of whether they had substance use issues or not. Those with more gray matter were more prone to continued violence, and those with SUDs displayed problems with response inhibition. The authors believe additional research is necessary “to link the observed structural abnormalities to specific deficits in functioning assessed by both neuropsychological tests and behavior in the real world and to the interactions of genes and environmental factors.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jeannie A

    Jeannie A

    June 9th, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    Huh. I would think that violent men have LESS gray matter as stupid as that act is. How disrespectful to anyone that happens to be in their sphere.

  • Aaron


    June 9th, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    ^^Ahh…My thoughts exactly. It’s said that ray matter is a measure of intelligence so violent people should have less of it. That, or we have a few dots yet to be connected.

  • Stacy Evra

    Stacy Evra

    June 10th, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    Gray matter is not all good as we thought of it! ;)

    Well maybe it really does have a bearing on a person’s behavior. It’s amazing how we are governed by these little things happening inside of us.

  • holly


    June 10th, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    It may be a reason but it is no excuse.
    People know right from wrong no matter how much brain matter they have.
    I am scared that getting this kind of information out there will then become some kind of lame excuse, like they can’t help what they do because of the lack of matter in the skull.
    puh-leaz! you learn from an early age the difference between right and wrong and need to know how to control that anger too!

  • paula burgess

    paula burgess

    June 13th, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    I’ve also heard of people with an injury to the frontal lobe of the brain having impaired self-control. You wouldn’t really think that it would be hard to conclude that “if this part of the brain takes a hit, this will happen.”

  • Abe F. Bailey

    Abe F. Bailey

    June 13th, 2011 at 2:03 AM

    As I’m looking at the comments of the first and second posters, I’m thinking wow! A lesson in biology is obviously sorely needed. There is zero relationship between brain size and intelligence. A species is either intelligent or not. You two may want to sign up for some night classes.

  • James


    June 13th, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    I do not see this as being used as an excuse, but determining what physiological concerns are related to any particular mental health or behavioral concern aids clinicians in developing new treatments for said clients.

    Holly, making statements that they should “know better,” or should “just control themselves,” are extremely counterproductive for everyone involved. From the tone of your post, and with due respect, I’m hoping you are not a mental health professional. I’m not trying to single you out in particular, your post just really resonated a lack of empathy or understanding to me. In that light, I wonder if you’ve ever heard of or done any research on Personality Disorders and other Axis II diagnoses? Might help to open up your perspective on the topic a little more. Just some food for thought.

  • Colby Larson

    Colby Larson

    June 15th, 2011 at 1:14 AM

    Obviously what can be gleaned from this study is that having more brain matter than normal causes areas of the brain to begin to malfunction and it to do things it wouldn’t normally do. Unless you have the right amount within a certain margin, you’ll have abnormal reactions compared to a ‘normal’ brain, such as heightened aggression.

    If this is indeed true, it would be an excellent way to test for potentially violent tendencies and try to head that off with therapy. Just don’t tell the government or they will want to make soldiers out of them all so they can drop them into enemy territory.

  • Lee Griffin

    Lee Griffin

    June 16th, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    I’m wondering if this has been going on for many years and until now has passed unnoticed or if it’s a new phenomenon. So what is special about this extra gray matter and why is it appearing in men with aggression issues? Is it only in certain parts of the brain or is it overall?

    I blame many of our current afflictions that are rearing their ugly heads on the pesticide-laden, chemically enhanced, factory farmed food we eat now. That junk’s all going into our bodies and you can’t tell me it doesn’t do a thing to us.

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