James Fallon on Learning From Your Inner Psychopath

A commonly reported anxiety dream is standing in front of an audience naked. Neuroscientist James Fallon lived this nightmare. While giving a talk in Oslo to leading researchers and a former prime minister, Fallon showed a scan of his brain to provide an example of imaging genetics. Afterwards, he was approached by a scientist who had recognized a familiar pattern in Fallon’s brain. It turns out that, after 60 years of being oblivious to the truth, Fallon was a borderline psychopath.


“I have a high threshold so many things really don’t get me mad.  You can just about do anything.  I’m pretty cool that way,” he says. But upon examining his behavior with the help of a psychiatrist and all too enthusiastic feedback of family and close friends confirming his psychopathic tendencies, Fallon realized that he had a penchant for getting even. His anger would drive his actions even years after suffering the initial insult. “I’ll get you.  And I always do.  And [people] don’t know where it’s coming from.  They can’t tie it to the event,” he says. “It comes out of nowhere.”

In order to control his need for revenge and other selfish behaviors, Fallon had to embrace his inner psychopath. “I have to use my ego, my sense of narcissism to manipulate myself to handle it,” he says.

As Big Think previously reported, psychopaths make up 1 to 2 percent of the US population, and any organization of 35 people or more includes at least one psychopath. Their genetically-wired brains are driven by a need to dominate and manipulate others, but for borderline cases like Fallon's, their behavior can be controlled.

“I’m [now] 66, you know, do I really want to be that way anymore?” he says. “It’s a challenge and I think I can overcome it.”

Fallon shares his personal story and the science behind it in his memoir, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientists Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. For more on his life-changing discovery, watch this clip from Big Think’s interview:

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

Carl Sagan on why he liked smoking marijuana

Carl Sagan liked to smoke weed. His essay on why is fascinating.

Photo: Photo by Robert Nelson on Unsplash / Big Think
Mind & Brain
  • Carl Sagan was a life long marijuana user and closeted advocate of legalization.
  • He once wrote an anonymous essay on the effects it had on his life and why he felt it should be legalized.
  • His insights will be vital as many societies begin to legalize marijuana.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less