Structural brain correlates of interpersonal violence: Systematic review and voxel-based meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2017 Sep 30;267:69-73. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2017.07.006. Epub 2017 Jul 27.


Owing to inconsistent nomenclature and results, we have undertaken a label-based review and anatomical likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis of studies measuring the quantitative association between regional grey matter (GM) volume and interpersonal violence. Following PRISMA guidelines, we identified studies by searching 3 online databases (Embase, Medline, PsycInfo) and reference lists. Thirty-five studies were included in the label-based review, providing information for 1288 participants and 86 brain regions. Per region, 0-57% of the results indicated significant reductions in GM volume, while 0-23% indicated significant increases. The only region for which more than half of all results indicated significant reductions was the parietal lobe. However, these results were dispersed across subregions. The ALE meta-analysis, which included 6 whole-brain voxel-based morphometry studies totaling 278 participants and reporting 144 foci, showed no significant clusters of reduced GM volume. No material differences were observed when excluding experiments using reactive violence as outcome or subjects diagnosed with psychopathy. Possible explanations for these findings are phenomenological and etiological heterogeneity, and insufficient power in the label-based review and ALE meta-analysis to detect small effects. We recommend that future studies distinguish between subtypes of interpersonal violence, and investigate mediation by underlying emotional and cognitive processes.

Keywords: Violence Grey matter volume MRI Prefrontal cortex Amygdala.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Organ Size
  • Violence / psychology*