In 2005, James Fallon was searching through thousands of PET scans for a research study that looked for a link between brain patterns and the actions carried out by a psychopath. Mostly he was looking at the brain scans of serial killers and other violent criminals. Yet he was also cross-checking these scans with many other patients like schizophrenics, depressives and normal brain patterns. Consequently though at the time he was also doing some research into Alzheimer’s and because this also had access to the scans of himself and all his family.
Fallon had created a theory around having low activity in the areas of the brain that were linked to empathy, morality, and self-control. This was being confirmed when he looked at the brain scans from serial killers, and it also had a very logical base – if you cannot feel true empathy for others than you will be more prone to proceed with actions that society feels are morally wrong.
Imagine Fallon’s shock when he found the pattern that fit the profile in the scans of his family members! Would you tell the world if you knew there was a possible psychopath in your immediate family? Fallon had to know and decided to confirm who’s scan he possessed, when he checked though he discovered an alarming truth! It was his own scan.
Was his whole hypothesis wrong? Fallon had never killed anyone or committed any sort of violent action. Maybe he was looking at the wrong areas of the brain completely then? However, the neuroscientist was not put off his research and decided to do further genetic checks on himself. These checks were even more unsettling, all the genetic properties that are confirmed to be linked to more aggressive behavior were present in his body!
“I’m obnoxiously competitive. I won’t let my grandchildren win games. I’m kind of an asshole, and I do jerky things that piss people off.” – James Fallon
He eventually came to the conclusion that he was a pro-social psychopath, this refers to someone who does have difficulty feeling true empathy but is able to keep their actions within the realm of what society perceives as acceptable. What his research has discovered is that not every psychopath is taken to violence and that your path in life is not just determined from your genes at birth. Your genetic behaviors can be influenced by those around you, in Fallon’s case he believes he did not go down a violent path because he was loved during his childhood. Confirming that everyone is capable of change!