Vol. 7, No. 2, 2001 Page 2

Brainwave patterns point to underpinnings of
impulsive, aggressive violence

Many crimes are unplanned, impulsive acts committed by people with hair-trigger tempers who over- react to minor insults or irritations. New research by Rebecca Houston et al. indicates that abnormalities in sensory processing contribute to these individuals' loss of control, and that medication may help correct both the neurological deficits and the behavior problems of these human "time bombs."

Houston and colleagues evaluated 15 individuals with strong histories of impulsive aggression, and 15 non-aggressive, non-impulsive control subjects. The researchers measured the subjects' brainwave responses to light flashes presented in groups of increasing intensity. They report that:

Anticonvulsant drug normalizes brainwave patterns, behavior

In a separate study, Houston, Matthew Stanford, and colleagues investigated the effects of the anticonvulsant drug phenytoin on subjects with impulsive aggression. Previous studies had shown the drug to be effective in controlling aggressive behavior.

The researchers administered the drug to 23 impulsive aggressive subjects, and report that subjects experienced fewer outbursts and improved mood. In addition, they say, phenytoin exerted a normalizing effect on the brainwaves of the subjects.

The results of their study strongly suggest, the researchers say, that "the expanded use of such inexpensive techniques and medications as phenytoin could make a significant impact in the management, treatment and prevention of impulsive aggressive behavior in both the mental health and criminal justice systems."


"Mid-latency evoked potentials in self-reported impulsive aggression," Rebecca J. Houston and Matthew S. Stanford, International Journal of Psychophysiology, Vol. 40, 2001, pp. 1-15; and, "A double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study of phenytoin in individuals with impulsive aggression," Matthew S. Stanford, Rebecca J. Houston, Charles W. Mathias, Kevin W. Greve, Nicole R. Villemarette-Pittman, and Donald Adams, in press. Address for both papers: Matthew S. Stanford, Department of Psychology, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA 70148.

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