Psych Prof Copes With Having a Psychotic Killer's Brain

James Fallon lives with stunning discovery about his brain
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 16, 2018 1:30 PM CDT

James Fallon is still trying to be a friendly psychopath—just ask his wife. "Every time something came up where I was interacting with her socially, I just asked myself, 'What would a good guy do?'" the psychiatry professor at University of California, Irvine, tells the CBC. But when she notices his good behavior, he tells her, "Don't take it seriously. It's just an experiment." Fallon famously made a discovery about his brain after getting a PET scanner in the late 1980s. Initially he used it to scan the brains of accused murderers before their defense trials ("They'd come in tied up in manacles," says Fallon) and then noticed certain patterns: Areas that lit up in healthy brains were dark in the brains of accused killers. "So I said, my god, there's something here," he says.

Then Fallon learned about "nasty" people in his own family, including a colonial settler convicted of killing his mother and distant cousin Lizzie Borden, who famously hacked up her stepmother and father in the late 1800s. And when Fallon scanned his own brain to help with a 2006 study, Vice reported, he saw clear psychopathic markers. "The parts of the brain that regulate conscience, emotional empathy and inhibition were turned off," Fallon says. "This is probably a very dangerous person." A non-violent, successful family man, Fallon laughed it off, but his wife and colleagues weren't surprised, describing him as emotionally distant, manipulative, and reckless—if often charming. Fallon says he's "still trying to control" the darker side, but "I figure if I tell everybody I have this, then I can't get away with anything more." (Fallon will be in a CBC radio series called "Imposters.")

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