Sex differences in structural brain asymmetry predict overt aggression in early adolescents

Troy A W Visser, Jeneva L Ohan, Sarah Whittle, Murat Yucel, Julian G Simmons, Nicholas Brian Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The devastating social, emotional and economic consequences of human aggression are laid bare nightly on newscasts around the world. Aggression is principally mediated by neural circuitry comprising multiple areas of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), amygdala and hippocampus. A striking characteristic of these regions is their structural asymmetry about the midline (i.e. left vs right hemisphere). Variations in these asymmetries have been linked to clinical disorders characterized by aggression and the rate of aggressive behavior in psychiatric patients. Here, we show for the first time that structural asymmetries in prefrontal cortical areas are also linked to aggression in a normal population of early adolescents. Our findings indicate a relationship between parent reports of aggressive behavior in adolescents and structural asymmetries in the limbic and paralimbic ACC and OFC, and moreover, that this relationship varies by sex. Furthermore, while there was no relationship between aggression and structural asymmetries in the amygdala or hippocampus, hippocampal volumes did predict aggression in females. Taken together, the results suggest that structural asymmetries in the prefrontal cortex may influence human aggression, and that the anatomical basis of aggression varies substantially by sex.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-560
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • sex difference
  • brain asymmetry
  • aggression
  • anterior cingulate
  • orbitofrontal cortex

Cite this