Aggression is a physiological trait that can take a variety of forms and has important roles throughout evolution, such as defence and predation, but when it manifests in humans in the wrong context, it leads to social maladjustement and crime. Although aggression is a heterogeneous trait, scientists are making efforts to establish classifications as a prerequisite for the development of effective prevention and treatment strategies, as currently available treatment options have limited efficacy. Our project focuses its efforts on children most vulnerable to maladaptive aggression, i.e. those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, prone to impulsive aggression) and conduct disorder (CD, prone to both impulsive and instrumental aggression).
From a clinical and public health perspective, the potential impact of this project is broad, because ADHD and CD are the most common psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence, affecting 5% and up to 10% of children, respectively, with more than 5.4 million affected people under 18 years of age in the European Union. In many cases adult outcome is unfavourable, with serious impairments that often result in violence, crime, imprisonment and enormous costs to families and society.
Current behavioural and pharmacological treatment approaches show limited efficacy, suggesting the presence of distinct subgroups within the clinical entity ‘aggression’. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop and apply methods able to correctly determine aggression subtypes by incorporating the information provided by genetic, environmental and neurobiological variables to the existing clinical criteria. This will ultimately lead to better-targeted, individual therapies. By elucidating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying aggression, our programme will provide new opportunities to both science and industry to develop innovative personalised medicine that targets the core brain functions implicated in aggression, prioritizing early intervention programmes. Business development is an explicit aim of our consortium, which will be guided by researchers with a background in industry and several SMEs interested in business development from our research.
Dissemination of our research and communication with study participants and the general public is an important aspect of Aggressotype. Aggression is a part of the fabric of life, whether between individuals, groups or nations. Regulation of aggressive impulses and behaviour is an important feature of all social animals, and an integral part of the societies we build. There is inherent tension between the societal goal of suppressing and eliminating aggressive behaviours that are harmful or threatening to others on the one hand, and the acceptance on the other hand that aggression is a human trait that cannot be fully eliminated, coupled with the goal of creating an understanding and forgiving society for individuals who display undesirable behaviours. These tensions frequently surface in debates on the role of “nature and nurture”, and often take the form of highly polarized stances regarding respect for individual freedom and accountability and growth, versus safeguarding others from harm. We are acutely aware of these societal debates, and see it as our mission to not just study aggression in a dispassionate scientific way for its causes, mechanisms, and opportunities for modulation, but equally to participate actively in the many debates by bringing informed opinions to this broader discussion. In Aggressotype, we shall actively seek contact with the general public, e.g. by organising a public debate with different scientific and societal stakeholders at one of the yearly meetings as well as through our website and at open days of our centres.
Finally, several other research consortia have recently been organized under the auspices of the EU FP7 programme that tackle similar issues as ours. We are planning to meet soon to bring together the different approaches and to provide a European roadmap to improve the clinical and societal management of conduct disorders.