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Periodic Report Summary 1 - RISKY BRAINS (The Neurobiology of Aggression and Violent Behaviour and Its Social Implications)

Since the 1990s, neuroscientists have made fundamental progress in the study of violence and aggression. Advances in the neurosciences and the development of new biotechnologies have helped to elucidate genetic variations and neural correlates of anti-social behaviour such as polymorphisms in the MAOA gene, alterations in serotonin activity, or dysfunctions in the neural circuitry of emotion regulation. This research may help to identify potentially risky individuals even before they show any anti-social behaviour and, therefore, promises to revolutionize prevention and intervention programmes. Despite the undeniable societal relevance and importance of this topic, there are only very few social science studies that investigate the neurobiology of aggression and violence. To date, no systematic, sociological analysis of neurobiological research on anti-social behaviour, its social framing, or its manifold social and political implications exists.
This project provides the first comprehensive overview and critical analysis of the neurobiology of violence and aggressive behaviour from a social science perspective. The key objective is to analyse how violence and aggression are studied in the neurosciences, and to outline the social and political implications associated with this research. With its interdisciplinary focus at the intersection of the neurosciences and the social sciences, the project will open up new perspectives in the study of violent and aggressive behaviour that transgress traditional disciplinary boundaries. It makes an important contribution to the theoretical reflection of science and technology in society and also inform future neurobiological research.
Torsten Heinemann started with an extensive document analysis, interviewed more than 20 neuroscientists who work on violent and aggressive behaviour and did participant observations in neuroscience laboratories and at neuroscience conferences. His research shows that contrary to neuroscientists’ claims, violence and aggression are not being investigated in an objective and scientifically neutral fashion. Instead, neuroscientific studies rely on socially biased moral assumptions and prejudice towards supposed these social categories. Violent and aggressive behaviour is particularly "diagnosed" in underprivileged social groups. neuroscientific research reaffirms and reproduce categories of social inequality such as gender, race and class that is aims to overcome and reproduces the idea of the "usual suspects".

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