MBB Junior Symposium: Hatred And Aggression: An MBB Perspective


Friday, March 1, 2019, 2:30pm to 4:45pm


William James Hall B1 (Basement Auditorium)


Please note: This event is not open to the public.

The MBB junior symposium features talks by and discussions with a variety of scholars on an interdisciplinary theme in mind/brain/behavior. The symposium will include speaker presentations and a lunch/discussion with speakers and MBB faculty.

Participation is required of students pursuing the Certificate in MBB (students in honors MBB tracks) and is also open and recommended to students pursuing or considering a secondary field in MBB.


What are hatred and aggression, how are they related, and what forms do they take it in the mind and in the brain? This symposium will focus on both inter-personal and inter-group forms of aggression. We will hear from researchers studying regional brain activity, social psychology, and foreign relations, to better understand the structures of hatred and aggression, the paths to these emotions in the brain, their manifestations in behavior, and how they interact with larger social forces.


Please reserve your symposium space by Friday, February 22nd at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1TDjGbhWunBExCddZgsue0-Z4UfV0H6hqtVDCboIOc2E/. You’ll also be asked to sign in at the event.


2:35-2:45 p.m. - Registration (outside William James B1; be sure to sign in!)

2:45 p.m. - Welcome and Introduction, Susanna Siegel

2:55 p.m. – Sabina Berretta, From fear to positive reinforcement: Neurobiology of anger and aggression

3:25 p.m. – Mina Cikara, Narratives shape cognitive representations of immigrants

3:55 p.m. – Jessica Stern, My war criminal, Dr. Radovan Karadzic

4:25 p.m. – Panel Discussion, led by Susanna Siegel


From fear to positive reinforcement: Neurobiology of anger and aggression, Sabina Berretta, Associate Professor of Psychiatry (Harvard Medical School), https://www.mcleanhospital.org/biography/sabina-berretta -- In neurobiological terms, emotions are complex, largely automated programs of actions, aimed at achieving healthy survival. In these terms, anger can be considered as a complex, automated response to a threat. Not surprisingly then, neural circuits underlying anger and aggression largely overlap with those involved in fear responses. However, neural mechanisms involved in processing pleasure/reward, social aspects of emotions and assessment of risk/benefit strategies also play a key role. Episodes of aggression become in themselves rewarding for the ‘winner’, and increasingly likely to be repeated. Neural mechanisms involved in empathy and in the recognition of others as part of one’s own social group, play a key role in shaping aggression. Finally, strong interactions between genetic traits and environment, such as child abuse by a parent with antisocial personality disorder, often perpetuate a cycle of violence and aggression. Can a deeper understanding of these complex neurobiological factors help us understand ourselves, violence and aggression in our society, from domestic abuse to crimes against humanity?

Narratives shape cognitive representations of immigrants, Mina Cikara, Assistant Professor of Psychology (Psychology/FAS), http://www.intergroupneurosciencelaboratory.com/ -- The U.S. and other western countries are seeing massive backlash in response to a perceived influx of immigrants, particularly those who are non-white. One driving force of this backlash is the rhetoric surrounding the character of immigrants and their impact on residents’ lives. We find that criminal, achievement, and struggle-oriented narratives about different immigrant groups shape the way people think about these groups and their members; these representations, in turn, inform immigration policy preferences. Most troubling, criminal narratives foster racialized immigrant representations (i.e., white versus non-white immigrants, irrespective of their nation of origin)—even among our most egalitarian respondents. Achievement narratives, in contrast, make immigrants from different backgrounds more similar to one another and increase respondents’ support for immigration.

My war criminal, Dr. Radovan Karadzic, Jessica Stern, Research Professor (Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University), www.jessicasternbooks.com -- Just before the Nuremberg trials, several psychiatrists and psychologists spent time with the Nazis in the jail, ostensibly ensuring they were psychologically fit for trial, but also with the aim of trying to understand the nature of their evil. Since then, there have been many war-crimes trials, but no researchers have been allowed by the international tribunals to study the leaders tried for serious war crimes. I first approached the Yugoslav Tribunal in 2011. It took four years, but I was finally granted access to Radovan Karadzic, president of the Serb entity inside Bosnia, who was indicted for genocide and other crimes. Karadzic is also a psychiatrist, a poet, and a "bioenergetic healer." I will be speaking about what it was like to interview this man between 2014 and 2016, both before and after he was found guilty.


Mina Cikara, Assistant Professor of Psychology (Psychology/FAS)

Susanna Siegel, Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy (Philosophy/FAS)

Robert Stickgold, Associate Professor of Psychiatry (Harvard Medical School)