What the heck? Are these brain structures meaningful or not?

"Fallon's brain (on the right) has dark patches in the orbital cortex, the area just behind the eyes. This is the area that Fallon and other scientists say is involved with ethical behavior, moral decision-making and impulse control. The normal scan on the left is his son's."

"Fallon was prompted to study his brain after his mother, Jenny, told him his ancestry was full of alleged murderers."

These photos are from “A Neuroscientist Uncovers a Dark Secret,”  by Barbara Hagerty.  Further quotes from the article:

The criminal brain has always held a fascination for James Fallon. For nearly 20 years, the neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine has studied the brains of psychopaths. He studies the biological basis for behavior, and one of his specialties is to try to figure out how a killer’s brain differs from yours and mine.  . . .

After learning his violent family history, he examined the images and compared them with the brains of psychopaths. His wife’s scan was normal. His mother: normal. His siblings: normal. His children: normal.

“And I took a look at my own PET scan and saw something disturbing that I did not talk about,” he says.

What he didn’t want to reveal was that his orbital cortex looks inactive.

“If you look at the PET scan, I look just like one of those killers.”

This situation described is very interesting.  There is a whole series on NPR on the criminal brain, Inside the Criminal Brain, Can Genes and Brain Abnormalities Create Killers?, etc.  I caught part of Hagerty’s show on July 6.

The question for me isn’t the criminal brain or serial killer brain, the question is who is a sociopath and who is not.  Who can feel empathy, has a conscience, views other humans as fools to be manipulated for one’s own ends, pleasures and amusement, etc. and who cannot and doesn’t.  Most sociopaths are not serial killers, but many still leave a broad swath of emotional disaster behind them.  Clever sociopaths can rise to high levels in business and government, it’s a question of self control and skill at being hypocritical (at recognizing when it is safe to express the sociopathic hungers, that are always there) — but they still have no shared humanity and no chance of developing any, imo.  The rest of us are so many bugs on the windshield to them.  So are these brain structures relevant or not?

Fallon certainly doesn’t appear to be sociopathic — no sociopathic arrogance comes through the photos, he lacks the classic “hollow eyes,” he has a loving family, etc.  On the other hand, families rarely ever recognize a sociopathic family member.  He looks like such a lovable guy, it’s hard to imagine that he might be a sociopath.  Could he be wearing that persona as a cloak?  If not, then the differences in brain structure illustrated above, which seem to me to be radical, are almost meaningless.

3 thoughts on “What the heck? Are these brain structures meaningful or not?

  1. There is some cause and effect thing missing in the petscan theories. Fallon points to epigenetics. certain genes turning on in response to trauma etc.

    But it seems to me if the genes weren’t “turned on” in his case why the brain change?

    Possibly its his scientific training. Possibly when he was getting his petcan done he was thinking very “coldly and objectively” about it hence the lack of emotional engagement. The others just let their thoughts wander.

  2. Pingback: How Alcohol Can Affect The Brain « e377

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