What lies beneath the face of aggression?

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2013 Feb;8(2):224-9. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsr096. Epub 2011 Dec 23.


Recent evidence indicates that a sexually dimorphic feature of humans, the facial width-to-height ratio (FWHR), is positively correlated with reactive aggression, particularly in men. Also, predictions about the aggressive tendencies of others faithfully map onto FWHR in the absence of explicit awareness of this metric. Here, we provide the first evidence that amygdala reactivity to social signals of interpersonal challenge may underlie the link between aggression and the FWHR. Specifically, amygdala reactivity to angry faces was positively correlated with aggression, but only among men with relatively large FWHRs. The patterns of association were specific to angry facial expressions and unique to men. These links may reflect the common influence of pubertal testosterone on craniofacial growth and development of neural circuitry underlying aggression. Amygdala reactivity may also represent a plausible pathway through which FWHR may have evolved to represent an honest indicator of conspecific threat, namely by reflecting the responsiveness of neural circuitry mediating aggressive behavior.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Anger / physiology
  • Anthropometry
  • Face* / anatomy & histology
  • Face* / physiology
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / instrumentation
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neuroimaging / psychology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Young Adult