Reducing aggressive responses to social exclusion using transcranial direct current stimulation

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A vast body of research showed that social exclusion can trigger aggression. However, the neural mechanisms involved in regulating aggressive responses to social exclusion are still largely unknown. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) modulates the excitability of a target region. Building on studies suggesting that activity in the right ventrolateral pre-frontal cortex (rVLPFC) might aid the regulation or inhibition of social exclusion-related distress, we hypothesized that non-invasive brain polarization through tDCS over the rVLPFC would reduce behavioral aggression following social exclusion. Participants were socially excluded or included while they received tDCS or sham stimulation to the rVLPFC. Next, they received an opportunity to aggress. Excluded participants demonstrated cognitive awareness of their inclusionary status, yet tDCS (but not sham stimulation) reduced their behavioral aggression. Excluded participants who received tDCS stimulation were no more aggressive than included participants. tDCS stimulation did not influence socially included participants’ aggression. Our findings provide the first causal test for the role of rVLPFC in modulating aggressive responses to social exclusion. Our findings suggest that modulating activity in a brain area (i.e. the rVLPFC) implicated in self-control and emotion regulation can break the link between social exclusion and aggression.

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