Reactive aggression refers to aggressive behaviour evoked by threat, provocation or frustration. While not all adolescents display reactive aggressive behaviour, these behaviours peak during adolescence. This review discusses whether typical patterns of adolescent brain development, particularly in circuitry of relevance to reactive aggression and which underpin emotional reactivity, regulation and social behaviour, may render some adolescents vulnerable to exhibiting reactive aggression. As highlighted by theories of aggression developed in adults, individual differences play a key role in determining the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. We therefore also consider factors such as hyper-responsivity to threat, poor emotion regulation and high levels of irritability, which characterise adolescents exhibiting clinical levels of reactive aggression. It is likely that normative development of the relevant neural circuitry interacts with individual and social risk factors to increase vulnerability to externalising conditions in a minority of adolescents.

Rachael A. Lickley & Catherine L. Sebastian
Psychology, Crime & Law: Volume 24, 2018 – Issue 3: Applications of Neuroscience in Forensic Psychology