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serotonin and aggressive behavior

Alan J. Robinson robin073 at maroon.tc.umn.edu
Thu Feb 15 11:48:01 EST 1996

On Tue, 13 Feb 1996 14:27:20 GMT, 
Tara L. Plummer  <plummert at river.it.gvsu.edu > wrote:

>I was wondering if anyone had any information on serotonin and the effects it 
>has on behavior, namely aggressive behavior.  It can be related to the human 
>or any other species.


The Jan 19 issue of Science has several articles on serotonin and 
social status in animals, which is related to agressive behavior.

It has also been known for a long time that violent suicidal death is 
marked by lowered 5-HIAA (a metabolite of serotonin) in the CSF.

Serotonin, along with the other monoamines dopamine and 
norepinephrine, plays a pivotal role in Cloninger's biosocial model 
of the brain.  He relates the behavioral variations to differences in 
base neural firing rates, rather than to synaptic levels.

Though Cloninger doesn't fully elaborate on the behavioral 
consequences, the combination of high novelty seeking (dopamine) and 
low harm avoidance (serotonin) would appear to be associated with high 
social dominance and its associated aggressive behavior in humans.  
When combined with low reward maintenance (norepinephrine) the stage 
is set for extremely violent behavior such as serial killing and 

The whole question of social dominance in various animal species is a 
very interesting and fundamental one as it appears throughout the 
animal kingdom - insects, birds, reptiles, mammals etc.  It's not 
entirely clear what adaptive purpose it serves and why it is even 
present - it would seem that a natural consequence of dominance would 
be the total spread of genes for social dominance throughout the 
population by means of preferential mating.  (Not survival of the 
fittest, but survival of the most ruthless).

The trait of high social dominance is also responsible for many of the 
ills of human society through social stratification and associated 
abusive and exploitive behavior.


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