Aggressive behavior has become a fascinating area of study among psychologists and the focus of researchers are now taking towards studying the brain's activities to determine what is going on with it when an individual is watching violent movies. Aggressive behavior does not necessarily include physical violence and rage. It can come in different forms and some psychologists find it a natural way of adapting to one's environment with a defense mechanism on guard. Some may show an aggressive behavior whenever they feel threatened. According to experts, aggression is adaptive. So, what is going on in the brain when watching violent movies?
Brain activities and violent movies
In a recent study published in PLOS One, an investigative study on the brain's activities were conducted by Dr. Nelly Alia-Klein of the Neuroscience and Psychiatry department of the Friedman Brain Institute and Icahn School of Medicine. The aim of the study is to understand how the brain functions whenever someone watches a violent movie in an effort to understand aggressive behavior that can help define a better intervention to it.
The brain appears to show a different circuitry when it is exposed to violent movies and when it is not. These brain activities can affect the level of violence that an individual may manifest. The researchers are positive that these findings can have a major implication with developing the appropriate intervention programs in managing aggressive behavior, especially when it begins to manifest during childhood.
Apparently, the brain processes different images (violent and non-violent) that can affect the brain activities, making a difference between those activities of the brain of aggressive and non-aggressive individuals. The exposure to violent media has a correlative value in the development of aggressive behavior that can help in understanding the emergence of violent behavior.
The study of the brain activities
54 men participated in the study. They were grouped in two teams. One of the teams is composed of men with a history of violence such as physical assault, while the other team are those without violent history. They were asked to fill up a questionnaire and were asked to watch successive violent scenes. On day one, they were exposed to movies consisting of street fighting and shooting violence. On the second day, they watched non-violent scenes like interaction among people during a natural disaster and the last day is one without any traces of violence.
The participants' brains were scanned while watching the movies. The metabolic brain activities were measured. These are considered to be the markers of the functional activities of the brain. Among the other tests performed are the taking of the blood pressure of the participants every 15 minutes and asking them questions on how they feel with a 15-minute interval.
The researchers noted that the group of participants having the history of violent behavior has a different brain function map as compared to the other group with no known history of violence. It appears that their brain takes a different activity during mind wandering prior to their exposure to the movie. The group with the tendency for violent behavior have a very high brain activity during this time. When they began watching violent scenes from the movie, less brain activities were shown than the non-aggressive participants.
The brain region called the orbitofrontal cortex known to be responsible for self-control and emotional decision-making is more relaxed when exposed to violent images among the group with the history of aggression. The brain acts more comfortable about watching violent scenes and the participants of this group expressed the feeling of being inspired and they are less bothered with the disturbing scenes shown at day one than the emotional scene shown on day two. They also have a lower blood pressure level as compared to the other group while watching the violent movie.
Significance of the study
The researchers found the study to be helpful in understanding that every individual has a different way of responding to the environment. Aggression is a behavior that is influenced by the nervous activities that develop during the early childhood. They also concluded that the media has an influence in the development of aggressive behavior and educators should be able to identify children with the tendency towards aggression. Choosing the kind of media to which a child is exposed can help prevent the tendency of developing aggression later in adult life.