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Predisposed Psychopath
March 18, 2010 2:49 PM   Subscribe

UC Irvine neuroscientist James Fallon gives talks about the biological traits of psychopathic killers using brain scans and genetics. When his mother suggested he should look into his own biological traits, Dr. Fallon discovered that he has an inactive orbital cortex -- a common trait for psychopaths (pdf). He also found that he has all five gene variants linked to aggression, and is related to two infamous murderers. So, why isn't he a killer? He attributes it to nuture.
posted by jabberjaw (52 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, why isn't he a killer?

...or is he?
posted by jedicus at 2:54 PM on March 18, 2010 [17 favorites]


As seen on TV.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:01 PM on March 18, 2010


He also has the same name as an infamous murderer of comedy.
posted by kmz at 3:06 PM on March 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


A cousin had done some sleuthing, and Fallon learned of eight potential killers among his ancestors, starting with Thomas Cornell, who was hanged in 1673 for murdering his mother

Oh come now, isn't like, every white person in the US related to the Cornells? I know my partner's family is.
posted by muddgirl at 3:06 PM on March 18, 2010


What's nuture? Let's buy a ton of it and put it in the water supply!
posted by VikingSword at 3:06 PM on March 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


Yet he studies psychopaths...hmmm...
posted by iamkimiam at 3:11 PM on March 18, 2010


He has at least eight potential killers in his family tree, among them the notorious Lizzie Borden.

Is there some stat that shows, given the numbers involved, everyone has famous and not-so-famous people in their mix, and they're not as "distant" as you'd think? Like, we're *all* related to a famous killer somewhere on the line?

The brain research is fascinating, but the "oh noes I'm a killer" sounds melodramatic.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:12 PM on March 18, 2010


WE ALSO HAVE AN ORBITAL CORTEX!
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:13 PM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


God help us when he goes inactive, like when he sleeps.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:14 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's when the sockpuppets come out and start doing their crazy dances.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:15 PM on March 18, 2010


>Is there some stat that shows, given the numbers involved, everyone has famous and not-so-famous people in their mix, and they're not as "distant" as you'd think? Like, we're *all* related to a famous killer somewhere on the line?

A Bundy number, maybe?
posted by mosk at 3:22 PM on March 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I can't help but wonder if his mom suggested this because she knew on some level that he was kind of an odd duck who was into serial killers. Sort of the neurobiologist's mother's version of "Are you sure you want to go out dressed like that, dear?"
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:26 PM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


He "studies" psychopaths? So Dexter is based on a real person.
posted by sallybrown at 3:30 PM on March 18, 2010


Oh come now, isn't like, every white person in the US related to the Cornells? I know my partner's family is.

I believe -- personally -- that if you have any ancestry in colonial New England at all, you're probably highly likely to be related to almost anyone living in colonial times. See Mark Humphrys for more on this. Heck, Barack Obama is related to both Bush and Cheney, and nearly every US President in fact has a provable relationship to at least one other.

So yes, I would discount his findings as spurious. Misleading vividness, as they say.
posted by dhartung at 3:32 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


"The joke was on me. It turned out I was the ruffian. I have the exact brain pattern of a psychopathic killer."

The brain pattern is stored in its original container, which I keep it in my fridge, next to his hollowed out skull.
posted by quin at 3:45 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I bet his MRI bed tilts up after a scan, so that the subject victim drops through a trapdoor to be made into meat pies at the campus cafeteria.
posted by benzenedream at 3:46 PM on March 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


So, why isn't he a killer?

Because:

a) Genetic traits are not randomly distributed
b) Correlation is not causation
c) Predilection is not prediction
d) There really aren't that many killers in a society that strongly rewards non-killing
posted by effugas at 3:47 PM on March 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


What's nuture? Let's buy a ton of it and put it in the water supply!

I hope it's nothing like G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:53 PM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


There is also something to the look of these folks.
posted by poe at 3:57 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought he was wild nature survivor guy but I have been watching too much Sesame Street.
posted by Tashtego at 4:10 PM on March 18, 2010


Dude looks like Al Swearingen. That's *another* link!
posted by notsnot at 4:16 PM on March 18, 2010


Do psychopaths think/know/agree that they are psychopaths? Maybe this guy will snap.
posted by anniecat at 4:21 PM on March 18, 2010


Astro Zombie: WE ALSO HAVE AN ORBITAL CORTEX!

Nah, that whole flying-all-over thing he was doing is finished now -and I don't think he killed anyone...
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:21 PM on March 18, 2010


Perhaps if a psychopath is aware of his condition he can keep things under WHO THE FUCK IS KNOCKING ON MY DOOR LIKE THAT??!!
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:29 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Low Earth Orbital Cortex would be a great username.
posted by zippy at 4:38 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


anniecat: Do psychopaths think/know/agree that they are psychopaths? Maybe this guy will snap.
I'm fascinated by this question, even though in general I stay away from the awful true crime/serial killer stories as too hard to stomach. From a long-ago thread about that Robert D Hare "Without Conscience" book, it sounds like the sociopaths are inherent liars (learning the words but not the music of how to 'appear' like everyone else), but also that they are so convincing in their lies that if you don't know better, you can be swayed by their utter conviction- that they literally change their mind and a new 'truth' is evident in their own heads, that they completely believe themselves. Then again... don't we all do that with our own small self-delusions?

The question isn't "Is he a killer?", but "Is he actually a clinical sociopath by some definition?" and therefore "If so, did he all along suspect he was different or broken, but masked it effectively? Or is he perfectly normal by every measure, including his own mind, except maybe a slight lack of affectation or a certain impetuous streak at times?" Dexter may be fictional, but the TwoP boards about Dexter dither on whether the more recent plot turns that have Dexter developing more of a conscience and innate moral center are true-to-life to an actual sociopath- whether they lack the empathy and impulse control of other people, but still feel and react just like "normal" people, or whether they are completely devoid of anything but infantile desires that the successful sociopaths have learned to mask or mute to avoid trouble within society.

Are there a lot of people out there with the kind of "brain damage" this guy studies who are perfectly healthy (if maybe a little affectless or slightly off) simply because they didn't have the spark of a childhood trauma to trigger their aberrant responses?
posted by hincandenza at 4:39 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Astro Zombie: WE ALSO HAVE AN ORBITAL CORTEX!

Greg_Ace: Nah, that whole flying-all-over thing he was doing is finished now -and I don't think he killed anyone...


Well, he's killed hundreds of threads...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:40 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do psychopaths think/know/agree that they are psychopaths?

Sure we do.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:52 PM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


There is also something to the look of these folks.
posted by poe at 3:57 PM


I'm not sure how exactly I got 10 out of 10 on that little quiz, but all the serial killers did have really sunken eyes except for the Son of Sam, whom I recognized from newspaper photographs.
posted by jamjam at 4:52 PM on March 18, 2010


THEY. SURE THEY DO.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:52 PM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


This study is all well and good, but what about the rest of us who want to know if being a psychopathic killer contributes to heart disease?
posted by digsrus at 4:58 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Qu'est-ce que c'est?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:07 PM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


but what about the rest of us who want to know if being a psychopathic killer contributes to heart disease?

I WANT TO PUT MY DISEASED HEART INSIDE OF YOU.

whoa whoa. better double up on the anti-psychotic meds...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:15 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Coughphrenologycough...
posted by Valet at 5:20 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lizzie Borden was acquitted.
posted by D_I at 5:22 PM on March 18, 2010


Crap psudoscience, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on March 18, 2010


I have a thing in my blood that, if a woman has 3 or more miscarriages and stillbirths in a row, and you treat this thing during her next pregnancy, she has something like at 85% chance of carrying the baby to term.

I have this thing, but never had a miscarriage. It was discovered between my first and second pregnancy. The neonatologist found it hard to advise me on whether I needed the treatment (which involved giving myself an injection in the stomach every day) during my second pregnancy. They know that if women are having repeated miscarriages, and they have this antibody in their blood, the treatment for it is effective. But nobody has done studies so nobody knows how many women might be carrying this antibody and having perfectly normal healthy pregnancies. So he could not say at all what my level of risk was, and he cursed the hematologist who had gone on what he called a "fishing expedition" in my blood and found this antibody when I had no problems or symptoms to suggest looking for it.

This reminds me of that: maybe they can say that psychopaths have this thing in their brain in common. But who knows how many other people also have it without being psychopaths? It's an interesting question.
posted by not that girl at 7:19 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, not that girl, is this something that happened in the past, or something you are currently going through?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:28 PM on March 18, 2010


Psychopathic murderers are psychopaths first. What does this guy score on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist? Is he manipulative? Does he feel a difference between truth and lies? Can he feel empathy?

There's better insight into the experience of psychopathy in a previous MeFi post. See also the People Who Lie part of the Radiolab episode on deception.
posted by parudox at 7:31 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only reason I'm not killing you all right now is because Superman says it would be wrong. Thank you, Man of Steel.
posted by SPrintF at 8:42 PM on March 18, 2010


Nah, that whole flying-all-over thing he was doing is finished now -and I don't think he killed anyone...

He killed me! With a lead pipe! In the Drawing Room!

I got better.

But it does create some interesting questions. What kind of things might a potential psychopath experience if they avoid that particular fate by virtue of nurture? Are they different in other ways? Devoid of empathy? Purely achievement based personalities? Seems a great subject for further research.
posted by Sparx at 8:42 PM on March 18, 2010


Current "brain pattern" resolution, questions, and understanding is currently insufficient to support any reasons as to why people are fucked up.

If you claim that you can explain it, you've just admitted that you're a port-a-potty.
posted by porpoise at 8:51 PM on March 18, 2010


So, why isn't he a killer? He attributes it to nuture.

Surgical or chemical?
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:59 PM on March 18, 2010


Astro Zombie said: WE ALSO HAVE AN ORBITAL CORTEX!

Greg_Ace said: Nah, that whole flying-all-over thing he was doing is finished now -and I don't think he killed anyone...

Quick! Somebody try to make contact with everyone who has a recently closed account. Maybe people haven't been flaming out and/or taking a break. Maybe they've been (gasp!) eliminated.
posted by amyms at 4:30 AM on March 19, 2010


I'm going to go so far as to say, if he found all those interesting signs in himself, it's troublingly likely that these traits are common in entire populations and he's simply just had insufficient sample size to notice.
posted by effugas at 5:11 AM on March 19, 2010


DAMN IT, FelliniBlank! You beat me to the Pax reference! That's totally where *I* was heading after VikingSword's "What's nuture? Let's buy a ton of it and put it in the water supply!"
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:45 AM on March 19, 2010


So, why isn't he a killer? He attributes it to nuture.

Or mastering the game Clue and fooling everyone?
posted by stormpooper at 7:23 AM on March 19, 2010


I like the sociopathic altruist theory.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:46 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


This thread is fucking ridiculous. Yeah, that ZotZine article sucks, and is filled with wild speculation and gross oversimplification of what was actually quite an elegant, if complicated, neuroimaging and computational modeling study.

No one has an "inactive" OFC. It is involved in far too many disparate functions and takes up way too much brain real estate to just be a useless lump of inert grey matter in any functional person. Do psychopaths and folks with BPD show abnormal patterns of activity there? Perhaps. If you take 100 average people though, and give them all a functional task designed to engage OFC, you'll see 100 different levels of activation.

Fuck journalists doing shite neuroimaging write ups, and fuck people who simply look at what the journalist has to say and feel qualified to comment on the imaging literature without reading and understanding it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:59 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


So solipsophistocracy, should the journalists be slowly killed as an example to others of their kind? :D
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:35 PM on March 19, 2010


Wow, not that girl, is this something that happened in the past, or something you are currently going through?

Kind of you to ask; the outcome of that particular pregnancy turns six tomorrow, so it's ancient history. It's made me very wary of agreeing to medical tests until someone can convince me that the information we'll get will actually be useful.
posted by not that girl at 7:40 PM on March 21, 2010


So solipsophistocracy, should the journalists be slowly killed as an example to others of their kind? :D

No, no. Hurry it on up. The less time spent obscuring science the better.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:06 PM on March 23, 2010


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