Post redux: What the heck? Are these brain structures meaningful or not?

Of course they are.  The good professor is selling BS.

Professor learns he has the brain of a psychopath.  James Fallon is a neuroscientist who’s spent his career studying psychopaths, observing their character traits and examining their brains. One day by accident, he learned that his own brain scans matched patterns found in known psychopaths’ scans.”

I don’t buy this at all.  In my opinion, he always knew what he was.  There is probably no higher percentage of psychopaths in any group than in psychopathy researchers and experts.  Why wouldn’t they be interested in why they are the way they are?  When I became interested in the subject, I could find very few people interested in discussing it.  A few years later, I realized that almost all of my discussion partners were themselves psychopathic.

From July 9, 2010,

“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?

2 thoughts on “Post redux: What the heck? Are these brain structures meaningful or not?

  1. Maybe there’s a reason why his mother told him about his family’s history of violent murderers?

    Personally, I’m not sure I buy into the idea of sociopaths being different in the physical sense. I still believe it’s a choice and that making those wrong choices has more to do with upbringing than with any physical defect in the brain itself.

    While it may be true that some people are more empathetic than others, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is incapable of empathy altogether.

    The main reason for my thoughts on this is the fact that many people have undue respect for other people’s manipulative skills and abilities, while many of the most empathetic persons are often thought of as having lesser intelligence.

    It’s just a personal observation but I think it must follow that this same situation occurs within families. In other words, people learn this type of thinking from an early age.

    On the other hand, many violent murderers have suffered severe physical and emotional abuse, isolation, degradation, etc. It doesn’t make sense to me to assume their brains were different and their abuse has nothing to do with it.

    Just a thought.

    – buster


    • I don’t think most violent murderers are psychopathic at all. Violence has a different ‘psychological-press’ than psychopathy. However when psychopaths go through that psychological-press, say, failure to attach as an infant, they then can become ‘spectacular’ serial killers (e.g., Bundy, Dahmer).


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