Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype predicts greater aggression through impulsive reactivity to negative affect

David S. Chester, C. Nathan DeWall, Karen J. Derefinko, Steven Estus, Jessica R. Peters, Donald R. Lynam, Yang Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Low functioning MAOA genotypes have been reliably linked to increased reactive aggression, yet the psychological mechanisms of this effect remain largely unknown. The low functioning MAOA genotype's established link to diminished inhibition and greater reactivity to conditions of negative affect suggest that negative urgency, the tendency to act impulsively in the context of negative affect, may fill this mediating role. Such MAOA carriers may have higher negative urgency, which may in turn predict greater aggressive responses to provocation. To test these hypotheses, 277 female and male participants were genotyped for an MAOA SNP yet to be linked to aggression (rs1465108), and then reported their negative urgency and past aggressive behavior. We replicated the effect of the low functioning MAOA genotype on heightened aggression, which was mediated by greater negative urgency. These results suggest that disrupted serotonergic systems predispose individuals towards aggressive behavior by increasing impulsive reactivity to negative affect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-101
Number of pages5
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Apr 5 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (grant P50-DA05312 ) to University of Kentucky's Center for Drug Abuse Research Translation and from the University of Kentucky's Department of Behavioral Science. The authors also gratefully acknowledge research support from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse ( DA007304 and T32DA035200 ) and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences ( UL1TR000117 ) of the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We also thank Richard Milich for his assistance in developing the study and in data collection, and Ke Xu for comments in an earlier version of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Aggression
  • Genetics
  • Impulsivity
  • MAOA
  • Negative urgency
  • UPPS model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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