Archive for April 26th, 2014


James Fallon (far right) with his wife, daughters, and son.

Off and on for some time I have been looking at the issue of antisocial behaviour and psychopathy from various angles. Another fascinating perspective, this time from a real insider, has recently come across my radar thanks to Scoop.it. I have downloaded James Fallon’s book on Kindle, but this is the post that kindled my interest (Sorry – I couldn’t resist that corny pun!). The interview raises a number of important issues though I am cautious about accepting the view that society needs sociopaths, even though I agree that surgeons need to be sufficiently detached to remain calm while they are cutting if they are to operate effectively: too much coldness, though, can make them poor leaders of a clinical team. I think his argument that violent societies/communities are seedbeds for psychopathy is convincing, though perhaps so is any male-dominated materialistic success-obsessed society such as ours, at least to some degree. I also welcome his research ideas about how we might work to prevent the seedbed effect happening in future. I intend to return to this topic once I have finished the book. Below is an extract from the post: for the full post see link.

Neuroscientist James Fallon has been studying the brains of psychopaths since the 1990s at the University of California, Irvine, trying to uncover anomalies in their neural activity. After looking at the brains of several violent and serial murderers using imaging technology, he found a pattern of reduced neural activity in centers of the brain responsible for empathy and ethics.

Not long after sending off a paper with his results, he began working on another study on the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. While looking at fMRI’s of his control subjects, some of which included his own family members, he found that one control subject’s brain showed activity patterns similar those of the psychopaths he’d been studying. Too curious to let it go, he “unblinded” the study to find out who the brain belonged to and made a startling discovery: The brain was his.

This led Fallon down a path of questioning his assumptions about the role of nature versus nurture in shaping psychopathy and to look more closely at his own past behavior and character. The result was a book, published in 2013, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain, in which he both examines what is known about the “psychopathic brain” and speculates on the potential healing effects of a loving upbringing.

Describing himself as a “prosocial psychopath,” Fallon makes a case that biology is not destiny and that some traits associated with psychopathy might even make positive contributions to society. I interviewed him about the psychopathic brain, prospects for prevention and treatment, how nature and nature work together to shape our personalities—and his own struggles with empathy and compassion.

. . . .

JF: Emotional empathy is what most people think about and care about, because it has to do with bonding to another person—a mate, a mother, father, really close relationships. People who have great cognitive empathy, on the other hand, are the people we think of who do great works—who save the world: perhaps Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela.

A psychopath can have a very high form of cognitive empathy, too. In fact, they are very good at reading other people. They seem like they can read minds sometimes. But even though they can understand people’s emotions, it doesn’t register emotionally with them—they have no emotional empathy. They understand people feel pain; but they use that information to use that other person. If they’re also a criminal, it makes them that much more dangerous, because they can read you and then use you better.

Related Interest

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