Biosocial aspects of antisocial behaviour

Academic year2019-2020                                                                  
Day(s)Mondays and Wednesdays
Number of meetings        12
Dates of all meetings3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26 February, 2, 4, 9, 11 March 2020
LocationVrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam
RoomBV-1H24 (BelleVUe building no 1091 at this map)
LecturersPerspective: Academics      
  • Dr. J.J. Tielbeek (coordinator), criminologist and neuroscientist VUmc, [email protected]
  • Dr. T. Polderman, Assistant Professor at the Center of Neurogenomics and Cognitive Research, Dept. of Functional Genomics, VU University [email protected]
  • Dr A. Popma, child psychiatrist, De Bascule, VUmc [email protected]
  • Prof dr. D. Posthuma, Center of Neurogenomics and Cognitive Research, VU University [email protected]
  • Prof dr. A. Blokland, The Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR), [email protected]
  • Dr. V.R. van der Geest, Faculty of Law (Criminology), [email protected]
  • emptyDr. Thimo van der Pol, Forensic psychotherapist at Arkin (Amsterdam mental health institution), [email protected]

Course description

Antisocial behaviour poses a major burden for society. Revealing its causes may provide clues for treatment and prevention. Criminology, the scientific study of criminal behaviour, has traditionally been dominated by sociologically oriented theories of crime causation. This focus has underscored the importance of environmental factors while, at the same time, dismissing the importance of biological and genetic factors. Indeed, most criminology textbooks give only a cursory overview of biogenic research into antisocial behaviour, suggesting that these factors are unimportant. This conclusion, however, stands in contrast to a large body of research which identifies biological and genetic factors to be important in the etiology of criminal behaviour. This honours course will introduce the student to biosocial criminology, an emerging paradigm in the criminological discipline. Biosocial criminology encompasses several subfields that seek to unpack the association between genes, biology, the brain, the environment, and different types of antisocial behaviours. The course will unfold in three interrelated sections. The first part of the course will present an introduction to biosocial criminology. We will explain basic concepts and theories within criminology, biology and psychiatry so that all students have the basic knowledge where they could build upon in the following lectures. The second portion of the course will introduce students to concepts, findings, and theories germane to the biosocial focus. The final section of the course will consider both the ethical and policy implications of biosocial criminology. During this portion of the class, we will also discuss some of the reasons mainstream theorists have overlooked biosocial criminology. Throughout the classes the students will be engaged by cutting-edge research taught by an excellent panel of lecturers. 

Relevance of the course
Antisocial behaviour in juveniles has been recognized internationally as a mental health priority. It is highly prevalent and is related to poor current general functioning as well as a series of negative outcomes in adulthood. In addition, it constitutes a major public health problem, as children with antisocial behaviour problems cost society at least ten times as much as well developing children. Therefore, further research into the mechanisms underlying pathogenesis and persistence of antisocial behaviour is warranted to inform and improve current treatment strategies. To provide an overall picture, the course will address this problem from different angles (academics, justice, ethics) so that students get an overall idea on which biosocial aspects are crucial in the explanation and prevention of antisocial behaviour.

Learning outcomes

  1. Solid background of biosocial concepts and biosocial findings within criminology
  2. Ability to integrate different perspectives applied to antisocial behaviour
  3. Ability to see how academic knowledge can be translated into practice (clinical or juridical)
  4. Ability to write a structured research proposal or poster based on the lectures and literature and to present this paper/poster to a small audience

Study materials
(The books are recommended, but not required)  

  1. Kevin M.Beaver, J.C.Barnes and Brian B.Boutwell, 2014. The Nurture Versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality.
  2. Raine. A. 2014. The anatomy of violence. The biological roots of crime.
  3. Robert M. Sapolsky, 2017. The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
  4. Research articles
  5. Video’s and popular articles

Working formats and activities

  • 10 seminar meetings of 2,5 hours (25 hours)
  • excursion to a youth detention facility
  • 2 presentation meetings of 3 hours (6 hours) + preparation of presentation (4 hours)
  • reading in preparation of the seminars (50 hours)
  • additional reading + writing of final research proposal (77 hours) 

Assessments method
Students are evaluated based on a research proposal or poster (60%), an oral presentation (30%), as well as participation in class discussions (10%).