Brain Damage

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The brain is a complex system that is part of the nervous system of the human body. The nervous system is your body's decision and communication center. The four major parts of the brain are cerebrum/cortex, cerebellum, limbic system and brain stem (Plotnik, 2005). If, something within the system is not working properly the system will try to over compensate by using subsystems to maintain homeostasis, to stabilize brain process. The brain will try to work to its best of its abilities however it may not be properly functional. Brain damage can occur at various stages of one’s life and can have major consequences.

Brain damage refers to an injury to the brain that can impair brain functions (Plotnik, 2005). Injury, diseases, and inherited disorders can damage the brain and its performance. Depending upon the location and severity of the damage within the brain, it can range from slight, but noticeable changes in one’s personality to death. Brain damage can have many causes and effects, both physical and emotional that can alter a person’s cognitive processes. In both cases, the way, the individual experiences reality can be alter thus altering their response set. Damage in parts of the brain can result in behavioral change.

According to Baron and Richardson (2004) the two regions of the brain that are connected to aggression are the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. It is implied that damage in these specific areas can cause aggressive behavior or to facilitate aggressive behavior in situations. Since the limbic system and cerebral cortex are related to rational thinking and inhibitions it can affect a person’s behavior. According to Filley, Price, Nell, Antoinette, Morgan, Bresnahan, Pincus, Gelbort, Weissberg and Kelly (2001) it was concluded that violence can sometimes result from brain dysfunction, however other factors may play a role, such as social-environment and genetic factors.

The limbic system helps individuals judge and analyze situations. In a study conducted by St-Pierre, Persinger and Koren (1998) it was found that rats that had limbic epilepsy had higher incidence of aggression. Since their limbic system was not fully operational their actions were more aggressive and not inhibited. According to Jackson and Mallory brain damage caused by dementia can alter a person aggressive reaction to situations. Dementia affects the limbic regions and brain cortex. In the study they conducted on dementia patients, it was found that up to 96% of patients with dementia demonstrated aggressive behavior over the course of their illness (2009). It may be do to the fact that dementia, apart from affecting their memory, also affects their judgment abstractions and thought content. Interaction with reality is perceived as a different experience that leads elderly to misinterpret situations and to react in an aggressive behavior. Damage in the limbic system can affect a persons aggression levels.

According to Dooley, Anderson, Hemphill and Ohan, individual with traumatic brain injury report more proactive and reactive aggression than those without brain injury. In their study they sample individuals with brain injuries that still interacted with the community. It was noted by the authors that although aggression was high right after the brain injury, the individuals tended to stable themselves after the situation. Also, there was no difference found within the male and female population in the study on the aggression reaction. In the same study, however, it was found that males with brain damage tended to be more aggressive than that of non-brain damage in avert aggression and instrumental aggression. Brain damage within individuals seems to play a significant role in demonstrating aggression as well as how one responds to other stimulus (2005).

It was said that brain damage may be one of the causes of aggression in people. The dysfunction of operation inside the brain is not balanced and that in return cause inhabitation of true nature/instinct/aggression. However, not all aggression is necessary caused by a dysfunction within a brain that is not operating well. In the article, “Spanking Kids Leads to Aggressive Behavior, Says Study” it is explain that the reason children tend to be more aggressive is due to the fact they mimic what is learned, that it is more of a social learning behavior. Children learn that showing aggressiveness is normal in society and therefore express themselves in an aggressive matter. In fact, showing aggressiveness in front of a child is the most obvious factor that may influence violent behavior in children, spanking remains a strong predictor. Brain damage can cause aggressive behavior in individuals; however, is not only one of the factors that can make a person more likely to aggress than others. One must remember that not all brain damage can cause aggression since some brain damage blocks individuals complete thinking processes, thus enable them to even react to any situation. Brain damage within the limbic system and cortex was said to be more aggression prone parts of the person, if damage. However people that have had brain damage within these systems do not always aggress against others or tend to be more prone to aggression. They may be more instinct prone or impulsive, but their aggressiveness does not increase.

Example / Application - Real-life

The real world has given examples brain damage in individuals who are not able to monitor their drives and instincts, thus making them more prone to aggressive behavior. In the article, “Sevier County man speaks out on brain injury after airline incident” Charles Fagerstrom, a former construction worker, fell from a roof at work three years ago, and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Charles Fagerstrom was denied access to a flight due to his behavior. As former was trying to go back home security insisted he check in his bag. Former tried to explain that many times before, when he had flied with the airline, it was not necessary for him to check his bags. As he asked to speak with the superiors of the airline he felt that airline staff thought he was drunk or high. As he was denied and told once again to check in his bag the situation escalated and Fagerstrom got angry. He tried not to insult anyone or threaten them however his answer to the manager was "[It's the] same d*** bag I brought every time. What the hell is this?" He showed anger and thus was denied to fly in the aircraft. According to the Allegiant Air Mr. Fagerstrom became angry and disruptive and they considered him to be a threat to others. (2010)

Usually individual with brain injuries they tend to demonstrate poor impulse control and are easy to anger. If an individual with a brain injury gets into a situation that they find frustrating, they are not able to check their behavior the way others do. Since their rational thinking is not fully functional they may be quicker to anger or lash out verbally which can be interpreted as being aggressive or violent. In this situation Mr. Fagerstrom viewed the situation as his character being challenged (not trusted), thus he felt the need to express his discontent with the situation. His view of the situation was slightly off, the airline wanted to do was follow procedure but to him it was some sort of mistrust in order to assert his unhappiness he resorted to anger. Mr. Fagerstrom himself has admitted to having trouble controlling his temper in certain situations. His brain injury enabled him to have full capacity of his cognitive thinking and controlling his aggressive response. In a study conducted by Rao, Rosenberg, Bertrand, Salehinia, Spiro and Vaishnavi it was found that after a traumatic brain injury the patients tended to escalate easier to aggression and to become more prone to depression. Patients escalate the situation at a faster rate.

Example / Application - Columbine

Columbine was a tragic event that took many lives. It was difficult at first to pinpoint the main factor behind the main culprits’ reason for such a catastrophe. Brain damage may have played a role in the tragic event. The two students were said to have some psychological problem. One was said to be a psychopath while the other student had depression and seem to get angry easily. Both students had a type of mental disorder that affected their cognitive processes in some way, damage to the brain function. Technically their diagnosis does not fall under brain damage since it did not affect their functioning. However, by the fact that they both suffer from some type of mental disorder it can be said that it enhanced their aggression response. The attack against their school and peers was not a rash decision they had time to think and plan. However, once their first plan of blowing up the school, with a home made bomb, fail their aggressive response escalated which resulted in them going through the school and shooting randomly.

Mental disorder, chemical brain imbalance, can affect the way individuals interact with others as well as how they perceive situations. In the case of the school shooting the situation was created by the prospective of the two students who saw minor injustice, committed against them, as a reason enough to retaliate against the whole school. The processes of thoughts can be affected by dysfunctional cognitive functions resulting in aggression ideation and thoughts.


Baron, R., & Richardson, D. (2004). Human Aggression. (2nd edition). New York: Plenum

Dare, D., (2010) Sevier County man speaks out on brain injury after airline incident. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from

Dooley, J., Anderson, V., Hemphill, S., & Ohan, J. (2008). Aggression after paediatric traumatic brain injury: A theoretical approach. Brain Injury, 22(11), 836-846.

Filley, C., Price, B., Nell, V., Antoinette, T., Morgan, A., Bresnahan, J., Pincus, J., Gelbort, M., Weissberg. M., Kelly. J. (2001). Toward an understanding of violence: Neurobehavioral aspects of unwarranted physical aggression: Aspen Neurobehavioral Conference Consensus Statement. Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, & Behavioral Neurology, 14(1), 1-14.

Jackson, J., & Mallory, R. (2009). Aggression and violence among elderly patients, a growing health problem. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 24(10).

Park., A. (2010). Spanking Kids Leads to Aggressive Behavior, Says Study, Retrieved May 28, 2010 from

Plotnik., R. (2005). Introduction to psychology. (7th edition). NY: Thompson.

Rao, V., Rosenberg, P., Bertrand, M., Salehinia, S., Spiro, J., Vaishnavi, S (2009). Aggression after traumatic brain injury: Prevalence and correlates. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 21(4), 420-429.

St-Pierre, L., Persinger, M., & Koren, S. (1998). Experimental induction of intermale aggressive behavior in limbic epileptic rats by weak, complex magnetic fields: Implications for geomagnetic activity and the modern habitat?. International Journal of Neuroscience, 96(3-4), 149-159.

Toppo, G. 10 years later, the real story behind columbine. USA Today.

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