Research Topic

Unlearning of Aggressive Behavior and Mechanisms of Change

About this Research Topic

While aggression is an indispensable part of human existence, it needs to be unlearned in the service of social adaptation to the cultural context. About 70% of children show forms of aggressive behavior with a peak in aggressiveness at the age of two years. This is followed by a steady decline in aggressiveness in most children, which leads to the hypothesis that children do not learn to be aggressive, but instead, learn to not be aggressive. Failed unlearning of aggressive behavior represents a life-long risk on an individual level (e.g. severe mental disorders, antisocial lifestyle), on an interpersonal level (e.g. intimate partner violence, child maltreatment) as well as at a societal level (e.g. costs of treatment and incarceration, victimization, extremism). Therefore, effective prevention and treatment of individual physical, verbal and relation aggression has manifold benefits: immediate for the individual, his/her social environment and long-term positive consequences for future partners and offspring as well as a collaborative and peaceful society.

Although longitudinal research has repeatedly shown that aggressive behavior is associated with biological, psychological and social risk, research has failed so far to identify causal mechanisms that would inform effective prevention of aggressive behavior. A “Nothing-Works”-Pessimism remained for a longtime regarding the prevention of chronic aggressive behavior when treatment programs especially fail to demonstrate efficacy when it comes to treating aggressive adolescents and adults. This Research Topic aims to update this to challenge the “nothing works” perspective. To develop more effective treatments and prevention, we need to better understand the psychological and neural mechanisms behind aggression. Thus, our goal for this Research topic is to gather the current state of the art about unlearning of aggressive behavior and mechanisms of change focusing on studies which deal with aggressive behavior from a perspective of developmental psychopathology, time-life-perspective, (functional) brain correlates and treatment. One of the proposed mechanisms this Research Topic will focus on is mentalization (i.e. the human capacity to understand behavior in terms of mental states). Other core mechanisms that seem crucial for aggression to be also covered are reward processing along with frustrated non-reward processing, impulsivity, as well as impulse control and anger regulation.

Contributions with content addressing these specific themes are of especial interest:

• Origins and individual development of hostile aggression
• Treatment and prevention of trait and state aggression tendencies
• Differentiation of different types of violence and aggression
• Quasi-realistic and arbitrary research approaches on aggression
• (context) modulation of reactive and other types of aggression
• Neural correlates of perceptual and conceptual aggression processing

Types of manuscripts:

• Empirical studies are preferred, reviews, theoretical and opinion papers are welcome


Keywords: Aggressive Behavior; Development; Treatment; Neural Correlates; Mechanisms


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

While aggression is an indispensable part of human existence, it needs to be unlearned in the service of social adaptation to the cultural context. About 70% of children show forms of aggressive behavior with a peak in aggressiveness at the age of two years. This is followed by a steady decline in aggressiveness in most children, which leads to the hypothesis that children do not learn to be aggressive, but instead, learn to not be aggressive. Failed unlearning of aggressive behavior represents a life-long risk on an individual level (e.g. severe mental disorders, antisocial lifestyle), on an interpersonal level (e.g. intimate partner violence, child maltreatment) as well as at a societal level (e.g. costs of treatment and incarceration, victimization, extremism). Therefore, effective prevention and treatment of individual physical, verbal and relation aggression has manifold benefits: immediate for the individual, his/her social environment and long-term positive consequences for future partners and offspring as well as a collaborative and peaceful society.

Although longitudinal research has repeatedly shown that aggressive behavior is associated with biological, psychological and social risk, research has failed so far to identify causal mechanisms that would inform effective prevention of aggressive behavior. A “Nothing-Works”-Pessimism remained for a longtime regarding the prevention of chronic aggressive behavior when treatment programs especially fail to demonstrate efficacy when it comes to treating aggressive adolescents and adults. This Research Topic aims to update this to challenge the “nothing works” perspective. To develop more effective treatments and prevention, we need to better understand the psychological and neural mechanisms behind aggression. Thus, our goal for this Research topic is to gather the current state of the art about unlearning of aggressive behavior and mechanisms of change focusing on studies which deal with aggressive behavior from a perspective of developmental psychopathology, time-life-perspective, (functional) brain correlates and treatment. One of the proposed mechanisms this Research Topic will focus on is mentalization (i.e. the human capacity to understand behavior in terms of mental states). Other core mechanisms that seem crucial for aggression to be also covered are reward processing along with frustrated non-reward processing, impulsivity, as well as impulse control and anger regulation.

Contributions with content addressing these specific themes are of especial interest:

• Origins and individual development of hostile aggression
• Treatment and prevention of trait and state aggression tendencies
• Differentiation of different types of violence and aggression
• Quasi-realistic and arbitrary research approaches on aggression
• (context) modulation of reactive and other types of aggression
• Neural correlates of perceptual and conceptual aggression processing

Types of manuscripts:

• Empirical studies are preferred, reviews, theoretical and opinion papers are welcome


Keywords: Aggressive Behavior; Development; Treatment; Neural Correlates; Mechanisms


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 October 2020 Abstract
28 February 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 October 2020 Abstract
28 February 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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