A Neuroscientist Discovers He is a ‘Pro-Social Psychopath’

James Fallon is a neuroscientist who, in the course of a study he was helping with at UC Irvine, discovered that his brain structure and his genetic heritage were the exact match for being a psychopath. Yet he has never committed a crime.

Psychology Today defines a psychopath thus:

“Psychopathy is among the most difficult disorders to spot. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, they lack conscience and empathy, making them manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal. They are an object of popular fascination and clinical anguish: psychopathy is largely impervious to treatment.”

Fallon had noticed that parts of his brain that has to do with empathy, self control, and morality showed low activity. Curious, he took a genetic test and discovered that he had markers for aggression, violence, and low empathy. Yet he has never murdered or raped anyone, but does admit to being competitive in intellectual spheres and of being something of a jerk. He is what some call a “pro-social psychopath.”

Fallon ascribes the fact that he has not become a serial killer to parents who lavished on him a great deal of loving attention. This seems to coincide with recent research that one’s childhood can affect how one behaves in later life.

Fallon also suggests that free will actually has played a role in his choice to not give in to his violent tendencies and channel them more toward the intellectual. Since finding out his nature he has been careful to try to be more empathetic toward the feelings of others.

Fallon, in fact, may be a real life Dexter Morgan in the sense that upbringing and the will to suppress his tendencies has turned him away from behavior that is both immoral and criminal. To be sure Dexter, the main character of the long running series by the same name, feels he still has to kill, but was channeled by training and upbringing to only execute people who deserve it, the so-called “Code of Harry” named after his police detective father.

This leads one to the idea that if psychopathic tendencies can be detected early enough in young children, training could ensure that they avoid committing violent acts and channel their natures into more productive avenues.

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