Monday, May 14, 2012

Researcher into psychopathy fits the profile

And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: Luke 4:23a

From an article title Psychopaths Among Us by Georgie Binks, that appeared in the September 2011 issue of the Canadian edition of Reader's Digest:

Professor James H. Fallon of the University of California believes he has singled out what he calls the “recipe for disaster”: a certain mix of high-risk “warrior” genes that, when mixed with an abusive upbringing, create a killer. Fallon has spent nearly two decades analyzing the brains of murderers, and his findings have strengthened the theory that while psychopathy may be hard-wired, its more extreme manifestations don’t come alive unless the right conditions are present.

Fallon’s research into psychopathy has a personal dimension. Five years ago he collected the brain scans and DNA samples of himself, his wife, his children and three brothers in a bid to determine the family’s risk for Alzheimer’s. When he recently looked at the data again, he made an astounding discovery. He was the only person in his family who shared many of the same traits as the cold-blooded murderers he was studying: the same aggression-and violence-related genes, the same altered, low-emotional engagement brain activity. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ The pattern was just like that of a natural-born killer.”

After his discovery, Fallon learned that several of his ancestors were murderers. (He is also related to the notorious Lizzie Borden, who was acquitted of killing her father and stepmother with an axe, but who is widely believed to be guilty.) But that wasn’t the only troubling thing he uncovered. “Some psychiatrists I’ve known for years, as well as my mother, recently admitted to thinking there was something wrong with me,” he says. “In fact, I do have anti-social traits. I’ve taken the Psychopathy Checklist and I’m just at the border of being a psychopath.”

Thinking back on his life, Fallon concedes he has an overwhelming need to win, and muses that, in both his professional and personal life, he’s always managed to get exactly what he wanted. The clincher? “Most people think I’m personable and engaging, but I don’t have much sympathy for others. I might think I do, but I don’t. Somebody close to me will die and I won’t go to their funeral.”

Fallon isn’t a danger to the public (he claims his “charmed” childhood may have saved him), but his story does underscore how widespread psychopathic tendencies are, and how, in some cases, drive, ambition and intelligence might be integrated into a successful career and law-abiding life. Luckily, Fallon has the ability to analyze his own actions and thoughts. Few psychopaths, however, boast such self-knowledge. “Psychopaths look at the world as though everybody is psychopathic,” Porter explains. “They see it as dog eat dog. By preying on others, they’re protecting themselves.”

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