Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Psychopaths
The psychopath gene can be expressed in one of two ways. Here's what stopped James Fallon's psychopathy from becoming destructive.
James Fallon teaches neuroscience at the University of California Irvine, and through research explores the way genetic and in-utero environmental factors affect the way the brain gets built -- and then how individuals' experience further shapes its development. He lectures and writes on creativity, connsciousness and culture, and has made key contributions to our understanding of schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Only lately has Fallon turned his research toward the subject of psychopaths -- particularly those who kill. With PET scans and EEGs, he's beginning to uncover the deep, underlying traits that make people violent and murderous.
James Fallon: For me – even though I’m like a borderline psychopath, a near psychopath and a prosocial psychopath – in a way I’m a lucky psychopath in the sense that I grew up in such a wonderful family.
And the family – my interactions with my mother and father, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, everybody around me – they knew that something was wrong and they treated me really unbelievably. So I had this wonderful – this wonderful upbringing and my mother and a couple of her sisters, they – I think they had good instincts about this.
They kept me away from things, you know. And I had gone through a kind of a dark – when I was going through puberty. And she knew something was really wrong and I think she talked to some of the teachers and made sure that I was very busy. So every day I was, you know, I was in – all through high school and college and all sorts of very active contact sports and I was involved in the drama club and in the band, you know. And I was like always doing something. And I think that probably she knew that for a kid that’s a good thing.
I was always successful. I always knew what I wanted to be. I always did well in school so I never needed money. I never needed power.
And I just thought to myself well what if I did? What if I did? What if I wasn’t so lucky in all these ways? And I don’t feel any guilt about being lucky. You know, I’m happy it happened but I was just thinking, you know, I could have turned out much differently.
But I think not so bad because I was treated so well that trigger wasn’t pulled on the genes. You know there are a couple of genes that I do have, the serotonin transporter that if you’re—early in life if you’re brought into an abusive or an abandonment situation, it’s very bad for your ultimate development.
But if you have that same allele, the serotonin transporter allele, and you’re shown a lot of love, it has the opposite effect, it negates the other negative things. So this is amazing, it really made sense, and it really is like a biological hardcore reason to be good to your kids, to your family’s kids, to your neighborhood kids, because if you just say it it sounds like happy talk, right? “We hate war,” “Be nice to your kids,” etc, but there’s real biological reasons for it, and I think it’s very compelling.
And that has been exciting. For me it has been exciting because it’s scientifically interesting. It opens up something about the universe. And that’s what drives me. It really does. And if it did, it wouldn’t, but on the side I knew that I was really lucky, too.
"I'm a very lucky psychopath," says neuroscientist James Fallon, who discovered he had borderline psychopathy while using his own brain scans in a double-blind study. Upon reflection it made a lot of sense, and now Fallon understands that it was his mother's good intuition in his developmental stage that set the course for how his psychopathy would be expressed as an adult. Good parenting and family connections can be the difference between an anti-social and a pro-social psychopath, and being kind to kids—in your family or in your neighborhood—who are struggling might just save the world from someone on the wrong side of psychopathy.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.