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Is That A Psychopath’s Brain Scan? Oh, Wait …

December 2, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Sorting through PET brain scans, James Fallon, PhD, found one that “looked exactly like the most abnormal of the scans I had just been writing about, suggesting that the poor individual it belonged to was a psychopath—or at least shared an uncomfortable amount of traits with one.”

Then he learned:

The scan was mine.

Dr. Fallon, 66, is a professor emeritus of anatomy and neurobiology and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. The quotes above are from his new book, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey Into the Dark Side of the Brain.

Is he in fact a psychopath? “I don’t have special emotional bonds with those who are close to me,” he told ABCNews.com. “I treat everyone the same. I am involved in a lot of charities and good works, and my intentions are good for the world. But I don’t have the sense of romance or love I am supposed to have for my wife. It’s not there.”

In a 2009 TED Talk, Dr. Fallon said his ancestors include Lizzie Borden, accused but acquitted of the hatchet murders of her father and stepmother; Thomas Cornell, executed in 1673 for allegedly killing his mother; and “seven more men on my father’s side … that were all murderers. Now, this, you know, gives one a little pause.”

But a genetically based lack of empathy isn’t enough to create a killer. Brain damage and a person’s environment also play key roles. “How you end up with a psychopath and a killer depends on exactly when the damage occurs,” he said. “It’s really a very precisely timed thing.”

Fortunately for both Dr. Fallon and any potential victims, his parents lavished love on him. “Looking at my genetics, I had a lethal combination,” he said, “but I just had the happiest childhood growing up.”

Score one for nurture.

* * *

Former cardiac radiologic technician David Kwiatkowski gets almost but not quite the maximum sentence. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related CME seminar (up to 29 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): Neuroradiology Review

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