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Where Does Violence, Road Rage Come From?

Ever wonder why people who are not typically violent become that way, for example, behind the steering wheel of a car?

A group of European researchers studying the nervous system of rats may have found the clues to why violence is so hard to stop: A fast, mutual, positive feedback loop between stress hormones and a brain-based aggression-control center in rats, whose neurophysiology is similar to ours. It may explain why, under stress, humans are so quick to lash out and find it hard to cool down.

In five experiments, behavioral neuroscientists studied whether stimulating the brain's aggression mechanism raised blood levels of a stress hormone and whether higher levels of the same hormone led to the kind of aggression elicited by that mechanism.

The results showed a fast-acting feedback loop, working in both directions. And, raising one variable lifts the other. Thus, stress and aggression may be mutually reinforcing, which could explain not only why something like the stress of traffic jams leads to road rage, but also why raging triggers an ongoing stress reaction that makes it hard to stop.

The resulting vicious cycle "would explain why aggressive behavior escalates so easily and is so difficult to stop once it has started, especially because corticosteroids rapidly pass through the blood-brain barrier," researchers said.

Even when stress hormones spike for reasons not related to fighting, they may lower attack thresholds enough to precipitate violent behavior. That argument, if extended in research to humans, could ultimately explain on the biological level why a bad day at the office could prime someone for nighttime violence toward family members.

In the long run and even short term, you know this response to anger can lead to a variety of health problems:

  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure

The obvious answer here is to let the anger go. Get rid of it, and it will not be able to bring you down either physically or emotionally. Easier said than done, however.

My favorite way to handle stressors is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which I commonly use in my practice to help patients deal with all kinds of negative emotions. It works to clear the emotional block behind your anger from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.

Science Daily October 5, 2004

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