(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Even though they’re impulsive and unsettled, there’s something about a bad boy that makes for an entertaining movie or a swoon-worthy protagonist in a novel. But according to new research in Biological Psychiatry, if these men were to be real people, they might actually be suffering from low levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter in the brain involved in regulating our self-control.

The researchers classify people with lower levels of GABA as impulsive individuals who tend to behave aggressively, have problems controlling drug, alcohol and gambling habits, have difficulty with relationships and don’t have as easy of a time adjusting to social situations. Impulsivity can also be a common feature among psychiatric disorders.

“Low GABA may be a risk factor for cortical dysfunction across a number of disorders, as depression and panic disorder are associated with low cortical GABA,” said John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, which published the research.

The researchers found that men with more GABA in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of their brains had lower scores in what the researchers classified as the “feeling of urgency,” which is the tendency to act rashly in response to distress or other strong emotions and urges. The men with lower levels of GABA tended to have higher urgency ratings, as the neurotransmitter was not inhibiting this reaction.

Lead researcher Frederic Boy said the way people behave results from a complex interaction between a number of genetic, social and environmental factors. He said the next step in the research needs to focus on further explaining the relationship between GABA and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

“After that, we can start evaluating whether there’s any way in which we could treat a GABA deficit in this area,” Boy said. “I suspect this could be difficult, as GABA is present throughout the brain, and raising the level indiscriminately may have all sorts of unforeseen consequences. The other area which needs further research is whether GABA levels in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex fluctuate over time, as this study is simply a snapshot of levels on one given day. This future research will be important to help further uncover the links between behavior and possible cortical dysfunction.”

Source: Elsevier

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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