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CSDE Seminar Series

Population Research Discovery Seminars

The Therapeutic Promise: Neuroprediction, Risk, the Violent Brain

Oliver Rollins, UW Department of American Ethnic Studies



Register for Zoom Seminar HERE

12:30-1:30 PM PT


Population Health Initiative

The seductive, yet elusive, goal of predicting criminal and violent behavior has gained greater scientific and popular appeal through the introduction of biotechnological and algorithmic tools. Focusing on neuroimaging research on antisocial behavior, this talk will outline the possibilities and pitfalls of the construct I call the “violent brain”—a new brain type focused on identifying potential criminals. Older critiques of this controversial research program (i.e deterministic, “pseudo-scientific” and/or racist) no longer fully capture its social and ethical impacts. The new “therapeutic promise” of the neuroscience of violence demonstrates how the imaginaries of neurobiological risk chase an ultimate goal of biomedical prediction. I argue that this neuro-speculative “mind reading” consequently expands target populations toward normal individuals at younger and healthier stages of life. The looming and underexamined danger of this technology concerns the inadvertent and normative ways it expands and authorizes corporeal surveillance tactics that bolster already problematic law enforcement practices through the guise of public health and safety. 

Oliver Rollins is an assistant professor in the Department of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington. He uses qualitative sociological methods to explore how racial identity, racialized discourses, and systemic practices of social difference influence, engage with, and are affected by, the making and use of neuroscientific technologies and knowledges. Rollins’s book, Conviction: The Making and Unmaking of The Violent Brain (Stanford University Press 2021), traces the development and use of neuroimaging research on anti-social behaviors and crime, with special attention to the limits of this controversial brain model when dealing with aspects of social difference, power, and inequality. His current project examines the neuroscience of implicit bias; chiefly the challenges, consequences, and promises of operationalizing racial prejudice and identity as neurobiological processes. Moreover, Rollins is also developing a third project on the politics of social justice and (neuro)science, which aims to elucidate, and speculate, the socio-political dilemmas, ethical vulnerabilities, anti-racist potentials for contemporary neuroscientific practices. Rollins teaching courses on science, technology, and society; theories of race/racisms, social inequities and health, and bioethics. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, San Francisco.