Neural mechanisms of the rejection-aggression link

David S. Chester, Donald R. Lynam, Richard Milich, C. Nathan DeWall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Social rejection is a painful event that often increases aggression. However, the neural mechanisms of this rejection- aggression link remain unclear. A potential clue may be that rejected people often recruit the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex's (VLPFC) self-regulatory processes to manage the pain of rejection. Using functional MRI, we replicated previous links between rejection and activity in the brain's mentalizing network, social pain network and VLPFC. VLPFC recruitment during rejection was associated with greater activity in the brain's reward network (i.e. the ventral striatum) when individuals were given an opportunity to retaliate. This retaliation-related striatal response was associated with greater levels of retaliatory aggression. Dispositionally aggressive individuals exhibited less functional connectivity between the ventral striatum and the right VLPFC during aggression. This connectivity exerted a suppressing effect on dispositionally aggressive individuals' greater aggressive responses to rejection. These results help explain how the pain of rejection and reward of revenge motivate rejected people to behave aggressively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-512
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press.


  • Aggression
  • Frontostriatal; fMRI
  • Reward
  • Social rejection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Neural mechanisms of the rejection-aggression link'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this