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Prof. Dick Swaab

Dick Swaab psiquiatra Controversias Psiquiatría Barcelona
Universiteit van Amsterdam, Paises Bajos
Ponencia El determinismo biológico de las conductas violentas
Fechas 28 Agosto - 31 Agosto, 2020
Mesa redonda 1 Comprendiendo la violencia y la agresión


Dick Swaab is Professor of Neurobiology at the Medical Faculty, University of Amsterdam, since 1979. In 1985 he founded the Netherlands Brain Bank and was Director until 2005. He was Director of the Netherlands Institute for Brain Research from 1978 to 2005. He is since 1978 Leader Research Team Neuropsychiatric Disorders, Neth. Inst for Neuroscience, an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), and is appointed Qiu Shi Professor in Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, P.R. China.

His major research interests focus on sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation, aging of the brain and Alzheimer’s disease and the neurobiological basis of depression and suicide. He has published over 600 papers in SCI journals, authored more than 200 chapters in books, and edited more than 90 books. Swaab mentored 87 PhD students from which 20 are now full professors.

Selection of some awards and honors Swaab received:
1998: Royal Honour, “Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion” bestowed by her Royal Highness Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands,
2002: Alzheimer’s Association Award: Lifetime Achievement Award in Alzheimer’s Disease Research. Received at the 8th International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders in Stockholm, Sweden,
2008: Academy medal for his role in national and international neuroscience (fundamental to applied), for his initiative to start the Netherlands Brain Bank, and for his research in Alzheimer's disease,
2013: Freethinker of 2013, Universiteit voor Humanistiek, Utrecht,
2014: European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Media Award for Wij zijn ons Brein: van Baarmoeder tot Alzheimer, for destigmatizing brain disorders.
2014: Ott’s Medal. Russian Academy of Science, Saint-Petersburg, Russia, for molecular microscopy and its application in human neuroendocrine pathology.

He is author of the 2-volume monograph The Human Hypothalamus that appeared in the Handbook of Clinical Neurology series, Elsevier and of the Dutch best seller We are our Brains, that sold more than 450.000 copies in the Netherlands and that is translated in 15 languages. This book has been more than 2 years in the Dutch bestseller list, 7 weeks even as #1. There is also a children's version of the book (You are your brain). In 2016 Swaab published a second book for the general public Our Creative Brain, that also came from the first week in the bestseller list.

Swaabs’ H-factor is 90.


Starting in the womb and continuing in the first years after birth our brains develop, at super-fast speed, into a network of 100 billion neurons and 1000 times 1000 billion contact points between nerve cells, the synapses. These nerve cells are connected by over 100,000 kilometres of nerve fibers. The uniqueness of our brain is due to a combination of our genetic background, the self-organizing principles and the programming that takes place during its development in the womb; in this way most of our character traits, talents and limitations are fixed at an early stage. Our genetic background and all the factors that have had their way with our brain during development have lumbered us with "internal limitations" and make it impossible for us to change our gender identity, our sexual orientation, the level of our aggression, our character, our religion or our mother tongue. Of course, whatever we learn is stored in our memory. There is some form of plasticity there, and thus it is possible – at a later stage - for society to have influence on our behavior, but not on our character. Changes in behavior, brought about, with great difficulty, cannot undo the character problems that originated during early development. Tellingly, the word "character" comes from the Greek for "imprinted, ingrained".

Aggression levels are determined by gender (little boys are more aggressive than little girls), genetic background (tiny variations in DNA), fetal nourishment, and pre-birth exposure to smoking, drinking, or medication. The likelihood of boys displaying uninhibited, antisocial, aggressive, or delinquent behavior increases in puberty, as their testosterone levels rise. The level of violence shown by adult male criminals is also testosterone-related. Therefore, there are many factors beyond one"s control that determine whether someone gets into trouble with the police or ends up in court. That does not mean that criminals should not be punished, but criminal law should consider psychiatric and neurological factors. The development of the prefrontal cortex is a slow process, continuing at least until the age of twenty-three. It is only at that age that an individual is fully equipped to control their impulses and make moral judgments. Based on neurobiology, therefore, the age at which offenders are tried under adult criminal law is now raised in the Netherlands to age 23, the age at which the brain structures are mature.

Some children are markedly more aggressive than others are. A strikingly high incidence of psychiatric disorders is found among delinquent youths imprisoned for violent crimes—as high as 90 percent of the total group in the case of adolescent males. Genetic factors are also influential, as studies of twins have shown. The application of criminal law should be confined to individuals with healthy brains. But our criminal law system continually sins against this “M'Naghten rules" principle. Can a child be deemed culpable for the combination of his genes and his mother's smoking during pregnancy, causing him to develop ADHD and to get into trouble with the police? We know, too, that malnourishment in the womb increases the likelihood of delinquency. In addition, can an adolescent whose brain has just been completely reconfigured by sex hormones be considered fully responsible for committing a crime?