Neuroscientist James Fallon knows what a psychopathic brain scan looks like, because he's studied the differences in brain activity between normal brains and those of people with various anomalies and impairments. While studying scans of his own family members in a study of Alzheiner's disease, he recognized one that had all the hallmarks of a psychopath. His curiosity got the best of him, and he looked up who it was. It was his own brain scan.
Fallon is a stable and successful scientist and is happily married. But he still recognized his own difficulties with feeling empathy for others. Does his own life mean that psychopaths can go unnoticed and lead successful lives?
“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,” he says. “But while I’m aggressive, but my aggression is sublimated. I’d rather beat someone in an argument than beat them up.”
Why has Fallon been able to temper his behavior, while other people with similar genetics and brain turn violent and end up in prison? Fallon was once a self-proclaimed genetic determinist, but his views on the influence of genes on behavior have evolved. He now believes that his childhood helped prevent him from heading down a scarier path.
“I was loved, and that protected me,” he says. Partly as a result of a series of miscarriages that preceded his birth, he was given an especially heavy amount of attention from his parents, and he thinks that played a key role.
Fallon's experience highlights the delicate balance between nature and nurture. Read more of his story at Smithsonian's Surprising Science blog. -via Digg