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The Neuroscientist Who Discovered He Was a Psychopath

timothy posted about 10 months ago | from the if-only-he-was-an-analyst-and-therapist dept.

Medicine 241

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Joseph Stromberg writes at the Smithsonian that one afternoon in October 2005, neuroscientist James Fallon was sifting through thousands of PET scans to find anatomical patterns in the brain that correlated with psychopathic tendencies in the real world. 'Out of serendipity, I was also doing a study on Alzheimer's and as part of that, had brain scans from me and everyone in my family right on my desk,' writes Fallon. 'I got to the bottom of the stack, and saw this scan that was obviously pathological.' When he looked up the code, he was greeted by an unsettling revelation: the psychopathic brain pictured in the scan was his own. When he underwent a series of genetic tests, he got more bad news. 'I had all these high-risk alleles for aggression, violence and low empathy,' he says, such as a variant of the MAO-A gene that has been linked with aggressive behavior. It wasn't entirely a shock to Fallon, as he'd always been aware that he was someone especially motivated by power and manipulating others. Additionally, his family line included seven alleged murderers, including Lizzie Borden, infamously accused of killing her father and stepmother in 1892. Many of us would hide this discovery and never tell a soul, out of fear or embarrassment of being labeled a psychopath. Perhaps because boldness and disinhibition are noted psychopathic tendencies, Fallon has gone in the opposite direction, telling the world about his finding in a TED Talk, an NPR interview and now a new book published last month, The Psychopath Inside. 'Since finding all this out and looking into it, I've made an effort to try to change my behavior,' says Fallon. 'I've more consciously been doing things that are considered "the right thing to do," and thinking more about other people's feelings.'"

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Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (4, Interesting)

russotto (537200) | about 10 months ago | (#45507241)

If he were a psychopath, he'd not be disturbed by it. Of course, maybe he's only faking being disturbed by it to promote his career.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (5, Interesting)

carbuck (1728596) | about 10 months ago | (#45507285)

Some psychopaths crave attention. Take serial killers, for example. Some leave tips for the police, hoping to get caught. They like the high-profile attention they receive during their killing streak and the even higher attention after they're caught. Maybe he's just an attention whore.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (5, Insightful)

Camembert (2891457) | about 10 months ago | (#45507289)

If he were a psychopath, he'd not be disturbed by it. Of course, maybe he's only faking being disturbed by it to promote his career.

Or, he's simply a scientist who discovers that he himself is an interesting test case.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (1, Interesting)

flyneye (84093) | about 10 months ago | (#45507961)

Hmmm lettsee now. Scientists using themselves as test cases in psych research....Leary & Dass, Lilly, inadvertantly Hoffman, don't think they received proper credit personally, but most don't recognize their credibility BECAUSE of the first person testing. Unfortunately, because of the subject of scrutiny , requirements of detatchment as an observer instead of subject, do not apply , therefore falling outside the stodgy, antiquated procedure of method. Thinking like this, decreases my faith in science in general, as being unable to service itself or evolve (without even mentioning frequency of corruption from outside interests). So take no notice if I scoff and chortle at various "findings" the herd accepts blindly as lemmings without GPS.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (4, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | about 10 months ago | (#45508355)

Hm, a psychopath that considers himself the most interesting person he knows...

Re:Or, perhaps you just demonstrated a Catch 22 (4, Interesting)

tinkerton (199273) | about 10 months ago | (#45507307)

maybe psychopaths are not as one-dimensional as you think.

Re:Or, perhaps you just demonstrated a Catch 22 (5, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 10 months ago | (#45507679)

Spot on.

We ALL have psychopathic tendencies, empathic tendencies, etc ad nauseum. All of us learn, from the cradle, what is "acceptable" behavior, and what is not. We are all born with the potential to become almost anything, good or bad. Some of us have to work hard to learn some things, others of us just follow our natural inclinations.

We actually NEED all of these traits, IMHO. Consider the doctor - if he's psychopathic, then he's probably a cold, analytical, unfeeling kind of guy. Is that necessarily a "bad thing"? Absolutely not - those traits are good things in a scientist. He isn't going to allow stupid feelings, opinions, or emotions stand in the way of his research.

Sure, there is probably some point, or degree, at which being psychopathic makes you totally worthless to society. Where is that point?

Lizzie Borden probably had some value, up until she committed murder. PERHAPS had she been properly evaluated, and received counseling, she might have understood herself, and the people around her better. Being better able to relate with her family and acquaintances, she may have made more intelligent decisions. Or not - each person remains an individual after all. We each make conscious decisions to get along with people, or not to get along.

IMHO, we, as a race, developed all of our traits and tendencies for a reason. Even our worst traits have value under certain conditions and circumstances. Our best traits can actually work against us in other conditions and circumstances.

I wonder how many slashdotters have ever taken a test, only to learn things about themselves that they didn't know. A leadership course in the Navy included a self-evaluation test, that was never turned in to the instructors. The purpose of the test was to reveal to the student which type of leadership he could use most effectively. You may, or may not, imagine my surprise to learn that I was primarily an authoritarian. (note that being 'primarily' authoritarian doesn't preclude other tendencies) Once I understood that somewhat important fact, I was able to improve my leadership ability tremendously.

We could probably all benefit from a little self analysis.

Re:Or, perhaps you just demonstrated a Catch 22 (0)

drkim (1559875) | about 10 months ago | (#45508111)

Excellent commentary...

I would only add that sometimes it is our context and environs that make us 'good' or 'bad.'
e.g. Mike Tyson; who was a brutal mugger running the streets of Brownsville, New York, but once he moved those same skills to the boxing ring became a world boxing champion.

Re:Or, perhaps you just demonstrated a Catch 22 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45508137)

IMHO, we, as a race, developed all of our traits and tendencies for a reason. Even our worst traits have value under certain conditions and circumstances. Our best traits can actually work against us in other conditions and circumstances.

Not really. It's purely be chance if mutations from the what we consider 'normal humans' confer some kind of advantage. You might as well say that somewhere, there's a silver lining to every genetic disorder people are afflicted with. The next person you meet drowning in their own phlegm from cystic fibrosis, tell them to be grateful for God's gift of an early and painful death. Or tell that schizophrenic whose every waking second is a living nightmare that one day he'll realise the value of having been born into a personal hell.

Re:Or, perhaps you just demonstrated a Catch 22 (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45508205)

IMHO, we, as a race, were created by God and anything that doesn't adhere to the most average standard representation of God's image (aka normal) is a pathology that represents an incursion of the forces of hell into our heavenly realm. Therefore, it must be cured and harnessed to prevent the spread of evil.

Re:Or, perhaps you just demonstrated a Catch 22 (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45508289)

Not everyone who is a psychopath chooses to do evil. It's well known that many people who lack a visceral, emotional "sense of right and wrong" operate instead on logic and rules that substitute for a sense of right and wrong; and like this person, they seek feedback from trusted people about the morality of their actions. For them, being a psychopath is a brain disability which can be dealt with, and not a license to run around killing people and wreaking havoc.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (4, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | about 10 months ago | (#45507317)

the definitions we are given are often oversimplified. Psychopaths can have empathy, love and other feelings for others. But it appears they can turn them off at will. Use your favorite search engine and read about the studies, fascinating stuff.

Even normal people can turn empathy off under certain circumstances or through conditioning.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507367)

Even normal people can turn empathy off under certain circumstances or through conditioning.

Like modern military training. [/sad-fact]

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 10 months ago | (#45507383)

that's only a symptom of the conditioning done on the populace

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507409)

Even normal people can turn empathy off under certain circumstances or through conditioning.

Like modern military training. [/sad-fact]

Yeah, that modern military training works really well, doesn't it ?

Except for the part which involves a high suicide rate among soldiers
who have returned home.

You see, people who are not sick know very well when they have committed
terrible wrongs, and many of those people will bring punishment on
themselves even after society has given them permission to murder.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507493)

Even normal people can turn empathy off under certain circumstances or through conditioning.

Like modern military training. [/sad-fact]

Yeah, that modern military training works really well, doesn't it ?

Except for the part which involves a high suicide rate among soldiers
who have returned home.

You see, people who are not sick know very well when they have committed
terrible wrongs, and many of those people will bring punishment on
themselves even after society has given them permission to murder.

Sounds like a winner to me. Redesign men to kill as needed, and then you don't even have to pay for their health care.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507569)

"modern" miltary training ?
As opposed to tradional military training ? It's true there was no war crimes in the good old days.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507945)

There were war crimes, but they were committed by the few.

After WWII, military leaders were shocked by the fact that only 10% of soldiers had ever fired their weapon. It turns out its extremely difficult to kill another human being.

As such, they modified the training and got the fire rate much much higher for the Vietnam war. They did this by teaching soldiers to dehumanize the enemy.

So yes, modern training. [amazon.com]

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (5, Interesting)

swillden (191260) | about 10 months ago | (#45507995)

Even normal people can turn empathy off under certain circumstances or through conditioning.

Like modern military training. [/sad-fact]

Nonsense. Military training, modern and traditional, doesn't teach empathy disconnection except in one narrow way, which is that combat training teaches soldiers to view their targets as "targets", not as people. It's always been done that way, because it's necessary to get soldiers to overcome the natural antipathy most of them have for killing. What military training is mostly about, besides building strength and stamina and teaching particular skills, is building esprit de corps, a sense of solidarity with fellow soldiers as well, of course, as a habit of obedience to orders (though post WWII most militaries leaven that with classes on the distinction between lawful and unlawful orders).

Actually, the most modern trend for US military training, as in the last 5-10 years, is exactly the opposite; it's training to increase empathy. The Marine Corps in particular has established a very interesting program training Marines that they should be "Ethical Marine Warriors". The catchphrase of this program is "The Ethical Warrior is a protector of life. Whose life? Self and others. Which others? All others." It's taught with the aid of stories like this one.

In one particular country in Asia Minor, the unrest was beginning to have strategic implications during that delicate time of détente. The trouble centered on the presence of an American missile base there. The local people said that they wanted the base closed and the Americans to go home. Humphrey’s job was to find a solution to the conflict.

The basic problem was plain old culture shock. The Americans working in that poor ally country thought that the local people were ‘dumb, dirty, dishonest, lazy, unsanitary, immoral, violent, cruel, crazy, and downright subhuman,’ and what’s more, they let them know it. No matter what he did, Humphrey couldn’t stop the negative talk—partially because some of it seemed true!

One day, as a diversion, Humphrey decided to go hunting for wild boar with some people from the American embassy. They took a truck from the motor pool and headed out to the boondocks, stopping at a village to hire some local men to beat the brush and act as guides.

This village was very poor. The huts were made of mud and there was no electricity or running water. The streets were unpaved dirt and the whole village smelled. Flies abounded. The men looked surly and wore dirty clothes. The women covered their faces, and the children had runny noses and were dressed in rags.

It wasn’t long before one American in the truck said, ‘This place stinks.’ Another said, ‘These people live just like animals.’ Finally, a young air force man said, ‘Yeah, they got nothin’ to live for; they may as well be dead.’

What could you say? It seemed true enough.

But just then, an old sergeant in the truck spoke up. He was the quiet type who never said much. In fact, except for his uniform, he kind of reminded you of one of the tough men in the village. He looked at the young airman and said, ‘You think they got nothin’ to live for, do you? Well, if you are so sure, why don’t you just take my knife, jump down off the back of this truck, and go try to kill one of them?’

There was dead silence in the truck.

Humphrey was amazed. It was the first time that anyone had said anything that had actually silenced the negative talk about the local people. The sergeant went on to say, ‘I don’t know either why they value their lives so much. Maybe it’s those snotty nosed kids, or the women in the pantaloons. But whatever it is, they care about their lives and the lives of their loved ones, same as we Americans do. And if we don’t stop talking bad about them, they will kick us out of this country!’

Yeah, it's kind of a silly story, but it's the sort of thing that is effective at getting through to 18 and 19 year-old kids who haven't seen much of the world, and making them think. And it's really important that soldiers who are going to be living and working among other peoples, as the US forces have been doing so much lately, do see others as people, and empathize with them.

For a different kind of war, it's likely that empathy training wouldn't be provided. But this is "modern" military training.

(As an aside, I think what would be even better than training soldiers to empathize with the people they're living among in foreign countries is not to send them to foreign countries, but I'm an isolationist.)

guess im a psychopath too... or just Scottish. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507603)

They don't use the term psychopath anymore if you look into it. That term was considered too vague. Anyway, personally, I can turn off any sense of empathy at will. I figure that comes with certain genetics, and I'm not embarrassed about that fact. Mind you I also don't put myself into that state be because I don't believe it is emotionally healthy. All I'm saying is some breeds of humans don't have the same emotional hardwired limitations.

Re: Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507343)

As another nameless psychopath, not all of us are "bad." Instead I used my lack of empathy as a rather excellent start to becoming a buddhist monk in my early years. Wanting to do the right thing and knowing the right thing may be different, but they don't have to be exclusive. It just means making a lot more conscious choices rather than having a clear path.

Re: Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507411)

What is and is not the "right thing" is subjective to begin with.

Re: Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507717)

The thing is psychopath != sociopath. The abilty to emotionally disconnect may be useful at times, as it keeps emotions from getting in the way of decision making. Whether or not it's used to allow yourself to cause harm to others is tangental. I'd suspect that many people in leadership positions would have psychopathic traits. It might also be a good trait to have in jobs where you put yourself in harms way to help others, as if you can disconnect emotionally about others you can probably do the same just as well for yourself.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 10 months ago | (#45507439)

Med school selects for people with these tendencies. The "feely. friendly" crowd that actually CARE for the patient are driven from the profession, early on.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507533)

Med school selects for people with these tendencies. The "feely. friendly" crowd that actually CARE for the patient are driven from the profession, early on.

Is there a source for this idea?

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 10 months ago | (#45507715)

AC asks for your source. I'll echo that question.

In my own experience, some doctors are very empathic, while others are not. Nurses seem to have an even higher percentage of empathic people, while the heartless nurses seem to be even worse than a cold, unfeeling doctor.

If there is screening in the medical profession for psychopaths, it seems that the screening is only about 40% effective.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (3, Insightful)

fliptout (9217) | about 10 months ago | (#45508017)

My anecdotal experiences contradict your statement.

Consider doctors must slog their way through 4 years med school, 4 years residency, 2 years or so of fellowship, ~200K of student debt, and the threat of lowering wages due to healthcare reforms. All that, and they don't start their career in earnest until around age 32.

Most likely, doctors don't put up with that unless they want to help others to some degree. If they are driven purely by greed, there are other lucrative careers with more immediate earning potential- banking, law.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507779)

I don't think you understand how psychopathy works, so maybe I should give you an example. If I see you get punched in the face, I know your pain. That is to say, I know how much it would hurt if I got punched in the face so I can extrapolate that it'd feel roughly the same for you. That doesn't in any way imply that I care about your pain, that I have any empathy for you. And emotionally I'd have no barrier against punching you myself, should I have reason or desire to inflict it. That is not to say I have any inherent cause to do that, but if I knew you had secrets that I consider important enough I'd have no qualms about torturing them out of you, for example.

Am I a bad person? Well I might not have emotions to guide me, but I have a fairly well working intellect. I've probably read more philosophy about ethics and morality than you have, since I feel I'm starting from scratch. On a cognitive level I recognize that being a bad person would be bad, even though I probably wouldn't feel bad about it. So I try to act good, not saintly good but like a person with integrity and decency. I fake all the appropriate social behaviors, I don't have a criminal record and overall I don't think I have any more skeletons in the closet than the average person. Perhaps even a bit less. It sounds to me like he is evolving the same kind of system, which leads to new insight into things he's done in the past.

I think he's describing more a process of learning, in the past he's done things that he'd not do today and it's disturbing in the sense that it violates the way he'd like to have behaved today. In short, like everyone else he'd like to go back and redo some choices because he's wiser and older. It's still only on the cognitive level though, not the emotional. And that's really it, if you never form any such barriers or they're overruled by something even more important you'd have no barriers at all. If I had lived during Nazi Germany and really thought this was what "had to be done", I could have been running the death camps. It's disturbing to me, but probably not in a way you'd understand.

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 10 months ago | (#45507817)

I think he is more disturbed by the stigma of the label. These criteria for psychopathy are not much different than basic animal survival traits. By acknowledging his reasoning of right and wrong and making an effort for change only completes him as a human. A human with a brain scaped for survival. Big deal, probably a fun guy to have a beer with.
If I recall correctly , NIMH and others are rethinking indications of mental illness,yes?
Perhaps we just need to wait for the book....

Re:Or, perhaps the test is not 100% selective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45508125)

Or, perhaps poor behaviors commonly associated with psychopathic personality types are a mere subset of the total possible behaviors that can result from the mode of operation represented by the pathways that are most active in his his PET scan. We tend to study, not just the outliers, but the problematic outliers. Healthy and functioning psychopath motivated by altruistic tendencies? Why not?

Most doctors (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507243)

In the US are psychopaths. The med school selection process encourages it. The pay/power scales back it up.

Re:Most doctors (0)

disposable60 (735022) | about 10 months ago | (#45507359)

And virtually every elected official.

Re:Most doctors (2)

AK Marc (707885) | about 10 months ago | (#45507389)

Don't forget CEOs. They hate when you do that.

also (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507249)

Does he hate niggers too?

Lizzy Bordon (4, Funny)

bkmoore (1910118) | about 10 months ago | (#45507267)

Elizabeth Bordon took an axe
And gave her Mother forty wacks
And when the job was nicely done
She gave her Father forty-one

Re:Lizzy Bordon (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 10 months ago | (#45507401)

Burma Shave

Re:Lizzy Bordon (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 10 months ago | (#45507453)

Lizzy Bordon was acquitted.

Re:Lizzy Bordon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507509)

So was OJ Simpson.

Correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507683)

Close, but this is the traditional formulation (with the correct spelling of her name):

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

Re:Correction (1)

InsightfulPlusTwo (3416699) | about 10 months ago | (#45508073)

The Wikipedia article was quite informative and even had some nice pictures of the parents' bodies. For the curious, the actual number of hatchet (not axe) wounds appears to have been 10-11 chops to the head and face for the father (including one that split one of his eyeballs in two), and 19 blows to the head of the mother from behind, crushing her skull. There is some question about whether someone tried to poison them before the axe murders, as the family had been violently ill in the few days preceding. No evidence of poisoning was found during the autopsy, however. Whoever killed them, the motive appears to have been money, with the Bordens' estate being worth about $10 million in present day dollars.

The next phone call he got (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507295)

Was from John Thompson, calling on behalf of the Microsoft board of directors, to invite him to interview for the CEO job.

Too cute a story (4, Insightful)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 10 months ago | (#45507313)

I question the serendipitous discovery. As a neuroscientist aware of his family's predilection for anti-social behavior, wouldn't his interest in this career path likely have been influenced by curiosity about himself?

Re:Too cute a story (2)

tsa (15680) | about 10 months ago | (#45507407)

Yeah, that scan didn't come from nowhere.

Re:Too cute a story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507413)

The answer is no. Unlike psychology, and to a lesser extent psychiatry, neurology is much closer to physiology than to behavioral studies (think of it as shades of gray). If he were curious about himself, he would probably have gone to the other side of the spectrum.

Subjugative Pathology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507329)

Great,. so now he possesses questionable scientific evidence at best to become freely what he would become anyway, but now has an excuse.

minus 44, Trol@l) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507355)

and that the floor 5hall we? OK! up today! If you Love of two is more stable Nigger Association Of OpEnBSD versus fucking market

The better path (1)

thewolfkin (2790519) | about 10 months ago | (#45507363)

as a psychopath perhaps he realized he could achieve more fame and therefore more power by coming forth and adapting himself to new ways. I've always understood that psychos were perfectly capable of being nice people. It's just they don't feel an intrinsic need to be nice people so they aren't nice unless it serves some purpose.

Re:The better path (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507435)

Well some people collect cards, some collect money, some collect titles. So maybe some psychopaths decide to collect "brownie points" instead. ;)

I think that like many things in this world it's not always black or white. Some may be completely "blind", but others might not be.

Re:The better path (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507647)

Absolutely this. I've had the unfortunate experience of knowing two psychopaths very well. They both can be very charming and appear to be nice when it suits their interests. It's entirely for the purpose of being able to manipulate people and get what they want. Both of these people are the most frighteningly dangerous people you could ever meet. Yet, they're so manipulative and subtle, most people don't realize what they are. It's very hard to grasp the lengths a psychopath can go until you've seen it personally. They literally will do anything, say anything, lie, do anything they can to manipulate different people to get whatever they want. This is most often power and control. There is no reasoning with these people, there is no appealing to any sense of right or wrong, there is no way to convince them to not do any horrible thing that suits their interests. If you have interactions with a psychopath, you won't get them to change their ways. The only thing to do is get as far away from them as possible.

No excuse anymore? (1)

HyperQuantum (1032422) | about 10 months ago | (#45507369)

Maybe this guy proves that despite your genes you still have a choice. No excuse like "I'm sorry your honor, I couldn't help killing him, it's because of my bad genes".

Re:No excuse anymore? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 10 months ago | (#45507433)

So a cause isn't an excuse if there exists a single exception?

So your wheel falls off, turns out the mechanics over-tightened the bolts last tire change/rotation, and the stresses made it fall off as you were on the highway ay 70 mph. You swerve, killing a family of 4. As there exist somebody somewhere that managed to stop their car safely after a wheel came off, you are 100% at fault, because a single exception disproves the rule.

Now that I've turned it into a car analogy, how would you treat the car analogy?

CEOs and politicians are more likely psychopaths as well. They get their jollies in more ways than just killing, but that in no way means the guy that does kill had a free choice in the matter.

Re:No excuse anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507707)

Now that I've turned it into a car analogy, how would you treat the car analogy ?

I'd call the orderlies and have you restrained, and then I would give you
a prefrontal lobotomy.

In the back of a white van, of course.

Re:No excuse anymore? (2)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 10 months ago | (#45507759)

The car analogy largely fails. If you want to force it, then I would respond that you should have taken responsibility to change your own damned tire, and seen to it that the job was done right, with a torque wrench instead of an over powered impact wrench. Yes, you're still responsible for your vehicle.

But, no, being psychotic is no excuse for murdering. That psychotic has a functioning brain, with which he makes decisions. He can decide to kill you, or he can decide to just beat the crap out of you, or he can decide that you're not worth the effort required to fight with you.

Anecdote: I met a psychotic person who actually USED that diagnosis to his advantage. I overheard him tell a guard, "I'm psychotic, if you fuck with me to much, I'll just kill you, and the court won't do shit to me because I'm psychotic!" That threat was enough to cause the guard to back down. Being psychotic didn't force the inmate to attack the guard, instead the inmate just used his condition to communicate a credible threat, thereby manipulating the guard's conduct.

Re:No excuse anymore? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 10 months ago | (#45508083)

Anecdote: I met a psychotic person who actually USED that diagnosis to his advantage. I overheard him tell a guard, "I'm psychotic, if you fuck with me to much, I'll just kill you, and the court won't do shit to me because I'm psychotic!" That threat was enough to cause the guard to back down. Being psychotic didn't force the inmate to attack the guard, instead the inmate just used his condition to communicate a credible threat, thereby manipulating the guard's conduct.

When you tell people what they are, they become it. If you tell people that they are psychotic, and that means they can't control themselves, then it will be true, even if they aren't psychotic, and psychotics can control themselves. That's a different issue than having some "flaw" that leads to or encourages some outcome.

The car analogy largely fails. If you want to force it, then I would respond that you should have taken responsibility to change your own damned tire, and seen to it that the job was done right, with a torque wrench instead of an over powered impact wrench. Yes, you're still responsible for your vehicle.

Yes, you should build your own house with your own hands, and raise all your own food yourself as well. At some point, specilization comes in, and you have to hire someone for jobs. It's impossible to live in a modern society and do *everything* for yourself. In fact, it's largely illegal (I got in trouble fixing out of code wiring that was done by a licensed electrician - it's legal for someone licensed to do something unsafe, so long as I don't sell the house, but it's illegal for an unlicensed electrician to perform work that meets all codes and regulations). And re-doing everything done by someone else would take longer than you have time. Since your complaint doesn't pass a sanity check (it's impossible to be sufficiently expert enough to check everything, and even if you were, it's impossible to actually check/fix everything done by someone else), then you must just be picking a fight. Bored are you? Perhaps it's because you are psychotic.

Re:No excuse anymore? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 10 months ago | (#45508271)

You might ask what the law actually says, in regards to your automobile. Most states spell out very specifically that YOU are responsible for the safe operation of your vehicle. If you run someone over because of mechanical failure, you will be held responsible. You MIGHT be able to file suit against the garage that did the work on your vehicle, and you MIGHT actually win the suit, but you are still responsible for the accident.

Wrong, please read how he describes himself (4, Insightful)

burni2 (1643061) | about 10 months ago | (#45507487)

1.) he was someone especially motivated by power and manipulating others
2.) MAO-A gene that has been linked with aggressive behavior
3.) is family line included seven alleged murderers

It's not all bad genes, but his genes affect his behaviour pretty strong, and the genes(family line) increase the chance of turning into a murderer.

The question is when will the trigger level be reached where he cannot suppress the violent tendencies and go postal. Yes he might have learned to emphasize
or simply learned to emulate it pretty convincing. And there is another question perhaps some folks at slashdot don't have the mild form of asperger but are just psychopaths, and get into a rage like "Hans Reiser".

So psychological conditioning is very important in these cases too, do you get a bonus for treating people in a human way or in an inhuman way.

- Is your peer group awarding you for helping someone or for calling someone a sissy, faggot or else ?
- Do you get a bonus if you treat your fellow workers with respect or you just use their burned out corpses as a ladder for your own success

And well taking these additional thoughts into consideration - soldiers are trained not to emphasize with the enemy, soldiers being awarded for brave behaviour (brave=where mostly the basis is a good rage like killing spree) - amok runs like the one in washington are a consequence of this trained behaviour and genetic disposition.

And the major question is how would a psycho-scan of the GOP and the Democrats turn out, because if you recall the term "liberal sissy" it carries a very distinct aggressive undertone and aims at casting someone out of a social group, and these are sociopahs (read: "manipulating others").

It's genes it's the environment it's the education the question is is there any free will or just a trigger level a source and a drain ?

Re:Wrong, please read how he describes himself (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45508317)

If I understand correctly, the circumstances of childhood development have a lot to do with it too.

The genes may predispose him to psychopathy, but he had a decent upbringing. If he had been abused in childhood, he might be storing heads in his freezer right now.

Behaviour change due to social pressure? (4, Interesting)

loufoque (1400831) | about 10 months ago | (#45507373)

The most troubling aspect of this story is that the person felt that he needed to change his behaviour when he learned society would diagnose him as abnormal, despite having been a functional member of society and a respected scientist for several decades with his behaviour as-is.

Re:Behaviour change due to social pressure? (2)

MightyYar (622222) | about 10 months ago | (#45507429)

If you don't know any doctors who are assholes, you don't know many doctors.

Re:Behaviour change due to social pressure? (5, Insightful)

slew (2918) | about 10 months ago | (#45507751)

Subjectively he was a functional member of society and a respected scientist and he was subjectively aware that he was motivated by power and a tendency to manipulate other.

So he felt that he needed to be more introspective about his behaviour when he found out something about himself that threatened to make the vaguely subjective awareness into something objective. Why is that troubling? Intelligent people often don't like being a subject to the fates. To me it would be more troubling if as a functioning member of society and a respected scientist he was simply fatalistic about it and say went on a killing rampage because he discovered this fact about himself.

Correlation does not make causation...

Re:Behaviour change due to social pressure? (0)

loufoque (1400831) | about 10 months ago | (#45507799)

There is nothing fatalistic about being a psychopath. It's not a disease, it's simply the trait of a predator.
It means that he can manipulate people more easily, which is a useful skill. Rejecting it because it's badly seen by society is a mistake.

Re:Behaviour change due to social pressure? (1)

DamonHD (794830) | about 10 months ago | (#45508059)

It's *maybe* a useful short-term skill *from the point of view of the psychopath* but not for the rest of the rest of society which sustains the psychopath and the people the psychopath is parasitical upon...

Rgds

Damon

PS. When an honest-to-goodness co-worker psychopath tried his smarm on me one particularly egregious time, the traits were so obvious that I actually found it entirely repulsive and made it my business to actively undermine him whenever I caught him behaving badly. So not a useful skill in fact for him.

Re:Behaviour change due to social pressure? (4, Informative)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 10 months ago | (#45508347)

It's not a disease, it's simply the trait of a predator. It means that he can manipulate people more easily, which is a useful skill. Rejecting it because it's badly seen by society is a mistake.

When people in a society prey on other people in that society, we usually identify their behavior a a disease, and rightly so.

I told you before (0)

oldhack (1037484) | about 10 months ago | (#45507385)

"Neuroscience" is psychology with a new branding, the same old quackery.

Throw in PET scan machine and it suddenly becomes a "science"? Bunch of clowns.

Re:I told you before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507425)

Agreed. We know very little about the human mind and intelligence, and yet we like to pretend that these subjective tests and assumptions put forth after observing something actually mean something concrete. Many studies haven't even been repeated. Psychology (and this nonsense) is often nothing more than mere pseudoscience.

Selection bias (5, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 10 months ago | (#45507441)

The problem with psychopathy is that the very definition came from selection bias.

We took a bunch of people who exhibited aberrant behaviour (socially unacceptable behaviour) and looked for common attributes. Then we invented a name for these attributes ("psychopathic") and the name became associated with the behaviour, but not the attributes.

There is abundant evidence that psychopathic tendencies are a spectrum. It's not a binary label, there's levels and shades of grey.

There is also abundant evidence that psychopathic tendencies are common [forbes.com] .

There is also the evolutionary model, which proposes that leadership requires vision that isn't swayed by other people. The tribe will occasionally need leaders, so it's an advantage to have some psychopaths in the population. They are the ones who can step back and analyze a situation rationally, who aren't helpless against the flow of public opinion, and are immune to groupthink and mob psychology.

It should come as no surprise that lots of people are closet psychopaths, to any specific degree. The problem isn't that they are psychopaths, it's that they somehow feel that that they are damaged, dangerous, or somehow unacceptable. (Viz: gay people [wikipedia.org] ).

Relax, it's all right. We've identified a set of genes, you have a subset, and life is what you make of it.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 10 months ago | (#45507521)

Full-on psychopaths do not normally make good leaders and I know of no evidence that it's an advantage to have psychopaths in the population. People who have empathy and consideration for others can make dispassionate decisions when necessary, or at least many of them can. It may be an advantage to have most of the characteristics of psychopaths in the population, or all of the characteristics except in the most lethal combination.

Re:Selection bias (2)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 10 months ago | (#45507561)

Full-on psychopaths do not normally make good leaders and I know of no evidence that it's an advantage to have psychopaths in the population.

That's a bold statement. Is it an opinion? (ie - can you back it up with references?)

Lots of references for my point of view here [google.com] .

Re:Selection bias (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507661)

He actually contradicted himself in the last sentence:
- I know of no evidence that it's an advantage to have psychopaths in the population
vs
- It may be an advantage to have most of the characteristics of psychopaths in the population, or all of the characteristics except in the most lethal combination.

I see Psychopaths like internet trolls, they are useful when you have nothing else, which is more often than I would wish.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 10 months ago | (#45507711)

He actually contradicted himself in the last sentence.

I think he's making a distinction between "full on" psychopaths and "the rest of the spectrum".

This (if I'm reading his post correctly) is problematic in a bunch of ways; for instance, where is the cutoff between "full on" and "OK to have in the population"? For his distinction, behaviour might be a better metric; ie - illegal actions rather than suggestive tendencies.

References would better clarify his position.

Re:Selection bias (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 10 months ago | (#45507787)

My reading was that his claim is that there are a number of characteristics that may be considered "psychopathic" and it may be beneficial to have each of them in the population, but that it is not advantageous to have members in the population exhibiting all of those characteristics.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 10 months ago | (#45508177)

That and not exhibiting psychopathic-like tendancies in the maximum degree.

Re:Selection bias (1)

s.petry (762400) | about 10 months ago | (#45508081)

Socrates vs. Aristotle is I believe a good example to use to explain the dilemma. Both were "Philosophical" leaders not Government leaders but I believe they show the concern very well.

Socrates was empathetic and would die for the group benefit, in fact he did just that. Aristotle believed that he was better than anyone else in society and was entitled to keeping humans as slaves because of him being 'better'.

We can use this example with other political leaders to show that not all leaders are self centered and looking for their own benefit at the expense of the group. George Washington for example did not want to be the President, but served anyway. I'll give you that he is a rarity, but that extreme exists at least as often as the opposite extreme. Most politicians sit in the middle somewhere, and we don't talk very much about them.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 10 months ago | (#45508163)

"OK to have in the population" meaning not causing a lot of harm. I think it's acknowledged generally that there is a spectrum and therefore no bright lines except those described by highly destructive behavior. A lot of people on the spectrum would exhibit some destructive behavior but overall be productive members of the community; there might be a lot of people who are in a transition zone between "mostly useful" and "too destructive to be useful."

IMO, we should reserve the word "psychopath" for people who are truly patholical.

The articles describing psychopathic-lite tendancies in many leaders don't mean that a person who was much more that way would be a more beneficial leader to have. Theyimply that his psychopathic tendencies make him less reluctant to step on competitors to get to the head of the pack and therefore more likely to be found in that position than energetic and bright people with more normal psychology.

An extremely psychopathic person does not care if his actions damage organization he leads except insomuch as he would lose some of his power. He will do things that increase the power of the organization because he controls that power. But he will also do things that damage the organization, like pushing out or destroying valuable team members who might compete with him for authority.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 10 months ago | (#45507963)

It's an opinion, which I thought was about sufficient to express disagreement with the opinion I was replying to.

Re:Selection bias (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507729)

Full-on psychopaths do not normally make good leaders and I know of no evidence that it's an advantage to have psychopaths in the population. People who have empathy and consideration for others can make dispassionate decisions when necessary, or at least many of them can. It may be an advantage to have most of the characteristics of psychopaths in the population, or all of the characteristics except in the most lethal combination.

Easy: We have psychopaths, so tribes that occasionally had them must have done better. It would be pretty easy to evolve not the have them. They are like left handed people and gays, its good to have them around occasionally. For various reasons, that not proof, but it is evidence.

Re:Selection bias (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45508217)

Since gays have never had a natural way to produce biological descendants, I would say the fact that they appear now and again is a side effect of some other, useful trait, not a useful trait in itself.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 10 months ago | (#45508325)

Since gays have never had a natural way to produce biological descendants, I would say the fact that they appear now and again is a side effect of some other, useful trait, not a useful trait in itself.

Consider evolution from the point of view of the genes, not the organism.

In the case of gays, the occasional uncle that doesn't start a family works for the success of the bloodline without sharing that success with other clans. It's effectively "drone labor" for the genes involved. The adage "rich uncle left me his fortune" has its roots in evolutionary survival.

With this adaptation the genes are more likely to propagate, but not the particular combination that makes up the individual.

(Viz: The Selfish Gene [wikipedia.org] by Rick Dawkins.)

Re:Selection bias (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507771)

> People who have empathy and consideration for others can make dispassionate decisions when necessary, or at least many of them can.

No, really, they can't. They can make necessary, heart breaking choices, but they often make those choices too late to prevent economic or ecological collapse.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Zorpheus (857617) | about 10 months ago | (#45508055)

People who have empathy and consideration for others can make dispassionate decisions when necessary, or at least many of them can.

Psychopaths have empathy, they can just turn it off.
Good point that people with empathy can make dispassionate decissions when needed. I would say intelligent people can do that normally.
Makes me wonder what is so special about psychopaths, maybe that they turn their empathy off more regularly, and more easily?

Re:Selection bias (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 10 months ago | (#45508357)

My understanding is that the most extreme individuals really don't have empathy. They can create an illusion of empathy because they understand on an intellectual level what it is and that most people have it and expect them to show it.

Re:Selection bias (1)

silas_moeckel (234313) | about 10 months ago | (#45507563)

It's rather disturbing that a rational person that makes up there own mind is considered a psychological issue. None of those are bad traits, it's the moral code that person lives by that matters as those traits just tend to make them successful.

Re:Selection bias (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 10 months ago | (#45507781)

"They are the ones who can step back and analyze a situation rationally,"

Is there some evidence that psychopaths are more or less rational than other people?

Re:Selection bias (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 10 months ago | (#45507943)

Is there some evidence that psychopaths are more or less rational than other people?

Fair point. I was using the term "rational" as a counterpoint to "emotional".

Psychopaths are well known for making choices which are coldly beneficial, without consideration for feelings which would arise from the affect their choices have on others - their choices have little or no emotional bias. Psychopathy tests score emotional aspects such as "Lack of Remorse or Guilt" and "Callousness and Lack of Empathy" as suggestive for psychopathy.

Both emotional and un-emotional choices are rational in the sense of "being done for a reason" (as opposed to "random").

Re:Selection bias (4, Insightful)

s.petry (762400) | about 10 months ago | (#45507925)

The bigger problem in my opinion is the author starts with the false premise that psychopathic behavior is determined by genetics. While genetics could (and most likely does) play a factor, it's not the major factor or only factor involved. The false premise should be obvious because the person performing the experiments was not a displaying characteristics of being a psychopath.

This study is not unique in using this false premise. In the last few years several 'studies' with this same false premise have made headlines. I won't backtrack on those articles except to mention them as "using genetics to determine if you are depressed", "using genetics to determine if a person is a psychopath or sociopath", and "using genetics to determine if you will be a criminal in the future".

As you wisely state, being a psychopath is not a binary thing. We all have tendencies toward at least some of the generalizations used to describe a psychopath. The same could be said for a diagnosis of a sociopath. The article does not address the main factors in what actually creates a psychopath or sociopath. Such as living in an abusive environment, education, lack of discipline for wrong doing, etc... All of those factors are sociological, not genetic.

In your example of leadership, I don't believe it's fair to characterize their traits as psychopathic. Psychopathic would be more self interested than the welfare of a group, so a leader being truly psychopathic would be contrary to many leaders. We see leadership in two forms, those that are concerned for themselves (many US politicians today, Aristotle) and those that are concerned for the majority more than themselves (Washington, Jefferson, Socrates).

When it comes to many of these alleged genetic studies, I have become very cynical. There seems to be a lot of biased studies trying to place all of the blame on genetics and ignore every other factor involved in creating mental disorders. Whether it is to remove blame for actions or possibly (and more frighteningly) eugenics purposes makes no difference. Either way, the studies seemingly are trying to set a labeling standard.

Then how should I vote? (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 10 months ago | (#45508279)

If we were to take it as given that psychopathy is a good thing for a leader to have -- not just good for him but good for those led -- then how ought a person to vote informed by that knowledge?

Should I uniformly vote for the most ruthless person in every race? Or should I identify the most ruthless person at the highest level and then vote for him and the people he will most readily use to accomplish his purposes?

Or can I take into account what his apparent goals are? If he's truly psychopathic, it should go without saying that his goals are not my goals. He does not have my best interest at heart. Rather, my goals are important to him only insofar as they help him accomplish HIS goals, which are ultimately selfish.

What about my own smaller organization? Should I try to identify psychopathic traits in my subordinates and if so should I weed them out or cultivate them? Which is more beneficial to my purposes? Is the same to the long term good of my organization?

And how about this? Your future wife will be a leader of your family. Will a psychopathic wife make a good mother for my kids or should I play it safe and pick a nice empathic woman? Certainly it would make me happier to have an empathic wife, but what about the good of the children?

Genetics is not destiny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507457)

I think Fallon's experience is proof of this and I suspect most of this "psychopathic" brain stuff is bullshit. Humans are universally psychopathic and most anyone could be a psychopath or mother teresa. And despite our inherent psychopathy we are getting better and history proves we live in a time of less violence, despite what our wars and our streets might make us think.

Buying Into the Whole Scheme (2)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 10 months ago | (#45507525)

Well, if you're going to buy into the whole scheme of quantitative analysis, that we are reducible to a set of statistics, it makes sense to surrender to the scheme.

Particularly the part about his 'genetic history' contributing to his pathology is telling. Shake that rattle witch doctors. Use numbers the way a numerologist would.

Seven Alleged Murderers? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 10 months ago | (#45507555)

Out of how many? That seems like a whole lot of murderers.

Typical manipulative attention seeking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45507573)

Advertisinig one's "psychopathy" to manipulate others is classically short-sighted, psychopathic behavior. This *will* increase his funding by confirming his experiments have first-person validity, which is rare in studies that are not founded in the doctor's pre-existing knowledge of their own condition.

Now, to claim "I'm cured, I'm cured!!!" and sell a lot of books.

If neurosceince is this far advanced (2)

jmd (14060) | about 10 months ago | (#45507655)

Lets start on people in positions of power... politicians..CEOs. Surely the numbers would be off the charts. I don't think anyone can rise to the top of the political or capitalist systems and be a really really nice person.

Re:If neurosceince is this far advanced (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 10 months ago | (#45508305)

It depends on whether there's a balancing point beyond which the psychopathic tendancies are no longer helpful in achieving power. If you're seen as too dangerous by your superiors you might be fired instead of promoted.

I suggest we conduct an experiment. (4, Funny)

Virtucon (127420) | about 10 months ago | (#45507699)

Let's take somebody from a privileged background with good breeding and then transpose his life with that of a common man. More specifically a petty thief with inferior parental lineage. We'll get the privileged individual brought up on charges, remove his access to money and his home and create false situations where he's accused of theft! At the same time we'll take the petty thief and give him all of the privileges, money and responsibilities in life. I assert that the man of good breeding will always conduct himself with dignity and honor regardless of the circumstance while the petty thief will always act like a common thug. That's because one's parents genetics determine what we become in life, forget education and opportunity if you're born from an oak tree you're strong, from a willow, soft.

I'll bet you a standard gentleman's wager, $1....

Maybe (1)

koan (80826) | about 10 months ago | (#45507731)

A different way to look at it is that the genes alone don't determine the individual, there are other mitigating factors involved.

I have a deep distrust of any science that is as powerful in every way including political and yet has such enormous inconsistency to it.
I refer to psychiatry of course.

More Information (1)

brit74 (831798) | about 10 months ago | (#45507879)

I heard an interview with him, and it's worth pointing out that just because you have gene(s) that predispose you to something doesn't mean it's a random roll of the dice whether you get it or not. There's an interaction between genes and environment (it's not a simple "is it nature or nurture?"). In his case, the psychopathic tendencies only come out if you have a bad childhood. In other words, if two children have bad childhoods, the one with the bad genes will end up being truly bad, but the one with the good genes ends up without the psychopathic tendencies. But, if both children have good nurturing childhoods, your genes don't matter so much.

"You know that Voight-Kampf test of yours?" (4, Insightful)

rwyoder (759998) | about 10 months ago | (#45507991)

"Did you ever take that test yourself? Deckard?"

Change Required (0)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 10 months ago | (#45508071)

If a scan for for identifying psychopaths is reliable we should be using it on school children. Those who are high on the psychopath scale should be assigned special counseling and life long observation. It also may be one heck of a tool for both legal defense as well as prosecution. If a person is born a psychopath and denied a good early environment he may be incapable of self control or the formation of intent and therefore not guilty. On the other side if a great deal of evidence is less than 100% of proof of guilt then the presence of a psychopathic brain might be the tipping point indicating guilt. I'm not certain that psychopaths and sociopaths account for all serial murderers but is should be studied.

Summary (1)

freeze128 (544774) | about 10 months ago | (#45508285)

Jimmy Fallon is a psychopath.

James Lizzie Fallon (0)

david999 (941503) | about 10 months ago | (#45508299)

I hope he has no "axe" to grind with anyone around him.......
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