The Scientist Who Discovered He Was A Potential Killer

The scientist who discovered he was a potential killer

Neurologist James Fallon was studying the brains of psychopaths when he saw that his was exactly the same.

James Fallon, the scientist who discovered he was a potential killer.

A scientist’s job is to discover new things, but few have the opportunity to learn anything important about themselves, and almost certainly no one has ever had a personal revelation as terrible as the one you experienced. James Fallon one afternoon in 2005.

This professor of neurology at the University of California at Irving studied for years the genetic basis of behavior. At the request of a colleague, he began examining something more concrete: the brains of psychopaths. Through CT images of the brain, scientists know that this type of person has low activity in certain areas of the temporal and frontal lobes, which are the ones related to empathy and aspects related to life in society, such as moral values ​​and self-control.

At the same time that he was analyzing the color images that showed the brains of psychopathic murderers, James Fallon had thought of studying those of his own family, so the results were brought to his work table on the day in question. After taking a first look, he confesses that he felt relieved, they did not come with names, but they were all very normal scans, with a predominance of red and yellow colors that indicated significant brain activity in areas related to empathy.

All except one. One of the scans showed a brain with many areas in shades of blue., traced to those of the worst psychopaths I was studying. For this reason, he thought that the technician had mixed them, but after carrying out the pertinent checks, he discovered not only that it belonged to his family, but that he was looking at the image of his own brain.

Family background

At first he took it in good humor. “I’m not surprised,” he says his wife said when she heard the news. He later investigated further and underwent genetic testing and discovered that he had variants of the MAO-A gene that predispose to more aggressive behavior. Moreover, it seems in his family there were cases of violence out of the ordinary, including a matricide that occurred several generations earlier.

But nevertheless, “I did not kill, or rape, or do anything like that”, has come to declare. “Genes load the gun and make someone vulnerable to becoming a psychopath,” but “biology doesn’t sentence you.”

Fallon has come to develop a very specific theory: in order for violent genes to be expressed, one must suffer a traumatic episode in childhood, and he explains this in his lectures.

“Pro-Social Psychopath”

Since this is not his case, he describes himself as a “pro-social psychopath”, so that, although he lacks the empathy that most people have, he is able to follow the rules and have normal social relationships, since he married his love. from high school and has three children and many friends.

In his book The Psychopath Inside (The Inner Psychopath) explains all this history and the fascination that the complexity of the human being produces in him, as marked by his genes as moldable by his environment.