A preliminary attempt is made to analyze the intraspecific aggressive behavior of mammals in terms of specific neural circuitry. The results of stimulation, lesion, and recording studies of aggressive behavior in cats and rats are reviewed and analyzed in terms of three hypothetical motivational systems: offense, defense, and submission. A critical distinction, derived from ethological theory, is made between motivating stimuli that simultaneously activate functional groupings of motor patterning mechanisms, and releasing and directing stimuli that are necessary for the activation of discrete motor patterning mechanisms. It is suggested that motivating stimuli activate pathways that converge upon sets of homogeneous neurons, called motivational mechanisms, whose activity determines the motivational state of the animal.
A defense motivational mechanism is hypothesized to be located in the midbrain central gray. In addition to tactile, auditory, and visual inputs from the paleospinothalamic tract, lateral lemniscus, and (perhaps) from the pretectum, it may receive inputs from a major forebrain pathway whose functional significance is not yet understood.
A submission motivational mechanism is also thought to be located in the central gray. In addition to inputs for defense, it is thought to receive a necessary input from a “consociate (social familiarity cue) modulator” located in the ventromedial hypothalamus, which can switch behavior from defense to submission. The location of the hypothetical offense motivational mechanism is not known, although the pathways by which it is activated are traced in some detail.
Brain mechanisms of aggression in primitive mammals and in primates are apparently similar to those in rats and cats.