The brain of abusive men

Thu, 02/03/2022 - 14:18
Los mecanismos cerebrales de los maltratadores
The abusives men’s brain mechanisms

The brain of abusive men

Agar Marín Morales, a researcher at the CIMCYC, has studied the neuroscientific variables that can influence gender violence, in order to expand knowledge about this phenomenon and help reduce its prevalence and recurrence.


In the first place, the aggressors' brain mechanisms were evaluated when they processed moral dilemmas about gender violence. To do this, within the MRI, a group of men convicted of abuse and another group of men convicted of other types of crimes were subjected to different moral dilemmas, both regarding sexist violence and other situations of violence.


The response of both groups was similar to the dilemmas about general violence, but the brain activity differed when posing the dilemma about male abuse. They had to answer yes or no to the question of whether they would exert violence, either physical or psychological, against their partner if they had a certain problem with her. The criminals activated the brain areas linked to the dilemmas, but the abusers did not.


Secondly, emotional regulation was evaluated in sexist aggressors. This time, three different groups of men were compared: male sexual aggressors, other criminals, and individuals with no criminal record. Inside the MRI machine, they were asked to respond to different images by increasing their emotion as much as possible, reducing it as much as possible, and observing them without regulating their emotions. The images were related to gender violence, others neutral and others unpleasant.


The results showed that the abusers activated the same brain areas as the rest when faced with unpleasant images, but not when they were shown images of abuse. In addition, when crossing the data with psychological tests, this differential activation was related to worse empathy and maladaptive emotional regulation strategies. Therefore, this could indicate that they show less empathy with their partners, but not in other situations.


In conclusion, according to Agar Marín Morales, these studies show hope for psychological treatments. Abusers are people capable of regulating their emotions, empathizing or being moral people, so with a focused and personalized treatment they can work on these aspects towards their partners.



-Agar Marín Morales:


Full reference

-Marin Morales, Agar (2021). Brain mechanisms of moral decision-making and emotional regulation, cognitive reappraisal and empathy, in men convicted of gender violence [Doctoral thesis]. University of Granada. [].



Finalist in the awards to the Government Delegation against Gender Violence for doctoral theses on violence against women for the year 2021.