James Fallon is a psychopath. No, he’s not the latest headline grabbing, ax-wielding madman that seem to appear in the news far too frequently. He’s actually a happily married man and father who also happens to be an award-winning neuroscientist at the University of California. He’s spent the better part of two decades studying violent psychos and also happens to have the mind of a psychopath.
Fallon didn’t always know he was a classifiable psychopath, in fact, the revelation didn’t come until 2005 when he studied his own PET scan and saw the brain similarities to so many of his subjects. Upon analyzing his DNA, he uncovered that his own genetic profile included several genes linked to the behavior of cold-blooded psychos.
Naturally, this would come as a bit of a shock to anyone, but Fallon has taken the opportunity to write about his own psychopathic behavior such as his impulsive lying, reckless behavior and lack of empathy. The book is “The Psychopath Inside” and has also garnered him the attention of NPR and a TED Talk.
The Verge recently talked with Fallon about the environment’s role in the development of a psychopath and what why some psychos act on their impulsive thoughts while others do not.
…you point out in the book that, as far as the medical community is concerned, psychopathy isn’t even a defined and diagnosable illness. Why do you think that is?
Fallon: You’re right that there are a lot of definitions of psychopathy, and there isn’t one governing set of symptoms that point to it. If you look to the DSM-5 [ED: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] psychopathy doesn’t exist, and if I asked my psychiatrist friends they’d agree with that assessment. In large part, that’s because many of the traits that characterize a psychopath — things like narcissism, sadism, anti-social behavior — appear in other disorders. So there isn’t a clean set of defining traits we can look to and come up with a diagnostic criteria. Really, that’s how much of psychiatry has turned out to be: we don’t have categorical answers, because there’s much more dimensionality to these conditions.
Now that you’ve recognized the effects of your behavior, have you been able to change it?
Fallon: Well, my wife just walked in, so let’s ask her. [“It’s Katie Drummond from The Verge, she wants to know if this has all made me any better.”] She says, “Yes, you’re more considerate.” So there you go. I did make an effort to change my behavior during this process, and I’ve kept up with that. I decided to start doing all the things people think are “the right things to do.” I go to the weddings, the funerals, I think about people’s feelings — all the stuff I don’t get a kick out of, I try to do now. It’s just the day-to-day decision to not be an asshole, to not lie to get out of something so that I can go down to the bar.
Read the full interview at TheVerge.