Study notes

Aggression: The Role of the Limbic System

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA

The biological approach to explaining aggression has three core areas: the neural explanation, the hormonal explanation and the genetic explanation. The main neural explanation is the Papez-Maclean limbic theory involving structures such as the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus which are implicated in reactive aggression. Reactive aggression is a response to a perceived threat, rather than proactive aggression which is a response in anticipation of a reward. The limbic system also connects to the cingulate gyrus which is responsible for focusing attention on emotionally significant events. Also, the limbic system has connections to the prefrontal cortex which is involved in forward planning and anticipation of reward. The limbic system plays a key role in how an organism responds to environmental threats and challenges and thus is believed to be the key factor in whether we respond aggressively or not to an external stimulus.

The hypothalamus is responsible for the regulation of the autonomic nervous system, which in turn regulates responses to emotional circumstances. Therefore, damage to this area can result in an inappropriate aggressive response to a perceived threat. The amygdala is responsible for attaching emotional significance to sensory information. The limbic system is believed to be hierarchical with signals being passed from the lower systems to the higher systems in the prefrontal cortex where feelings are monitored and interpreted, which then triggers a physical response. The prefrontal cortex is crucial for regulating social behaviour and aggressive responses. Damage to the prefrontal cortex would reduce the inhibition of the amygdala resulting in higher levels of aggression.

For More Study Notes

To keep up-to-date with the tutor2u Psychology team, follow us on Twitter @tutor2uPsych , Facebook AQA / OCR / Edexcel / Student or subscribe to the Psychology Daily Digest and get new content delivered to your inbox! To purchase the complete set of Study Notes for Aggression visit our Psychology Store.

Related Collections


Advertise your vacancies with tutor2u

Much cheaper & more effective than TES or the Guardian. Reach the audience you really want to apply for your teaching vacancy by posting directly to our website and related social media audiences.

Find our more ›

Advertise your teaching jobs with tutor2u