Intimate partner violence perpetration corresponds to a dorsal-ventral gradient in medial PFC reactivity to interpersonal provocation

David S. Chester, C. Nathan DeWall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration is often preceded by perceived interpersonal provocations such as slights, insults, and rejections. Yet the neural mechanisms that link provocation to IPV remain unclear. In the context of interactions with strangers, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) has been repeatedly shown to respond to provocation, with more dorsal activation associated with more aggressive reactions and more ventral activation associated with less aggressive reactions. We used functional brain imaging to test whether this dorsal-ventral MPFC reactivity gradient would also correlate with greater aggression towards an unexamined target: intimate partners. To do so, 61 undergraduates (27.87% male, age range: 18–22) reported whether they had ever committed various acts of IPV perpetration (e.g., punching, hitting, shoving) and then were repeatedly provoked by a stranger while undergoing functional MRI (fMRI) scanning. Individuals with a disproportionately dorsal, rather than ventral, MPFC response were more likely to have perpetrated IPV and had perpetrated more kinds of IPV, even when controlling for gender. These findings provide further evidence that the dorsal-ventral MPFC gradient is a critical, biological indicator of whether an individual is more or less likely to react aggressively and suggest new avenues for understanding and potentially preventing IPV perpetration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-182
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse [DA05312].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Intimate partner violence
  • aggression
  • fMRI
  • medial prefrontal cortex
  • provocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Development
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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