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:

James Patterson on writing: Plotting, research, and first drafts

The best-selling author tells us his methods.

Videos
  • James Patterson has sold 300 million copies of his 130 books, making him one of the most successful authors alive today.
  • He talks about how some writers can overdo it by adding too much research, or worse, straying from their outline for too long.
  • James' latest book, The President is Missing, co-written with former President Bill Clinton, is out now.
Keep reading Show less

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Why the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner won’t feature a comedian in 2019

It's the first time the association hasn't hired a comedian in 16 years.

(Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Culture & Religion
  • The 2018 WHCA ended in controversy after comedian Michelle Wolf made jokes some considered to be offensive.
  • The WHCA apologized for Wolf's jokes, though some journalists and many comedians backed the comedian and decried arguments in favor of limiting the types of speech permitted at the event.
  • Ron Chernow, who penned a bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton, will speak at next year's dinner.
Keep reading Show less