Reason.tv: Three Ingredients for Murder - Neuroscientist James Fallon on why psychopaths kill and libertarians don't

UC Irvine neuroscientist James Fallon had already been studying the brains of psychopathic killers for years when his mother told him that he comes from a long line of murderers (including his infamous cousin, Lizzie Borden). After studying himself, Fallon discovered that he has two of the three ingredients for psychopathology.

Fallon sat down with Reason.tv to explain why he's not a murderer, why others are, and what it is about libertarians that—just might—keep them peaceful. 

Approximately 8.50 minutes.

Interview by Paul Detrick; shot by Zach Weissmueller; edited by Detrick.

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  • -||

    why psychopaths kill and libertarians don't

    We tend to kill with irony.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    We get our jollies from seeing people (primarily elderly) starving in the streets. Beats watching baseball.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    I dunno, I consider myself to be pretty much libertarian, but I almost daily meet people I would have little problem killing. Usually during the morning commute.

    Drivers are rude
    Such attitudes
    But when I showm my piece,
    Complaints cease
    Something's odd
    Feel like I'm God
    You stupid, dumb shit, goddamn MOTHER FUCKER!!

    I open the glovebox
    Reach inside
    Gonna wreck this fucker's ride
    `Coz I got a bad habit

  • Lefty4Life||

    Guess you could say the libertarians aren't alright

  • Me Myself||

    You're right. I would happily kill whoever wrote those lyrics.

  • cynical||

    I never would have guessed, with a handle like that.

  • ||

    Ah Offspring. That really takes me back to 6th grade. Their drummer should really try to learn a new beat one of these days.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    6th grade?

    Shit.

    Damn kids.

    I must be one of the old farts here.

  • ||

    I use to get super fucking pissed while driving...still sort of do but it does not last long.

    I simply remind myself how many times i have fucked up driving and probably the uncountable number of people i have cut off, forgot to signal for, went to fast or to slow and I simply brushed it off as "hey i am not perfect either and i can't expect everyone to be a better driver then me all the time."

  • LeSigh||

    I'm not a perfect driver either, but most drivers are talentless, clueless assholes. They're not just making mistakes - it's the way they drive all the time.

    People can't even handle the shopping carts in a store, so I don't expect them to be able to handle a vehicle.

    I try to focus my anger at the government for requiring licenses but not requiring people to actually know how to drive.

  • ||

    But have you killed any of those assholes you listed? That was the whole point of the video....people with high-functioning logic centers in their brains may want to kill, but they have the ability to reason why they shouldn't

    (yes, I know you were being facetious)

  • ben||

    This guy cut me off and pulled into the same parking lot as me, he got out and looked over to see me getting a letter of my glove box. He must have thought I was pulling out a gun because he ran and jumped back in his car and peeled away.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Wait, wasn't Lizzie Borden acquitted?

  • Jeffersonian||

    OJ's got a place in Hell right next to her.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Racist.

  • Wind Rider||

    MAY keep us peaceful. MAY. Style tag manipulation also MAY have been it, ya know.

  • mdb||

    I find the music annoying.

  • Tom||

    I thought the music was the best part.

  • Jake Boone||

    So for those of us not foolhardy enough to watch YouTube videos at work, what are the "three ingredients for psychopathy"?

  • Birds and rocks and things||

    Brain chemistry or brain damage that inhibits the part of the brain that controls ethics and morality, genetic predisposition, and abuse during childhood.

  • ||

    the part of the brain that controls ethics and morality

    Hooray for phrenology!

  • tarran||

    Not quite - if I recall correctly, the major change in Phineas Gage's personality after his accident was that he went from being a trustworthy guy to someone who stole things whenever he could. Most of his other faculties were unaffected by his accident.

  • Ray Pew||

    Not quite - if I recall correctly, the major change in Phineas Gage's personality after his accident was that he went from being a trustworthy guy to someone who stole things whenever he could. Most of his other faculties were unaffected by his accident.

    I would argue that such brain injuries merely damages the impulse controls of action but does not "control" ethics and morality.

    Ethics and morality are understandings of human interactions derived from reasoning. Claiming something is ethical or moral requires reasoned justification, which is an intellectual endevour, not an innate response.

  • ||

    "Ethics and morality are understandings of human interactions derived from reasoning. Claiming something is ethical or moral requires reasoned justification, which is an intellectual endevour, not an innate response."

    Actually, what Dr. Fallon said was that that part of the brain was involved in "coding for morality." I take that to mean it's a part of the brain necessary for someone to analyze (or reason about) a potential action in terms of morality and ethics.

    Plus, as you mentioned, it's invovled in impulse control. It sounds like a circuit that does sort of pre-emptive second guessing, asks the question "will I regret doing this?"

    Interesting that so many politicians these days seem to be having trouble controlling their impulses.

  • robc||

    1. Genetics
    2. Damage/Lack of development of certain brain lobes
    3. Abuse

  • ||

    Whew!

    My parents didn't abuse me, so I'm safe.

    (2 out of 3 ain't bad, though)

  • robc||

    Same 2 out of 3 the guy in the video has then.

  • Jake Boone||

    Thanks!

  • Basil||

    That background new age music is really annoying and makes it hard to listen to the guy. Can we have this interview WITHOUT the mood music?

  • Robert||

    Don't you know that plucked & strummed strings like that with a little bit of chime are the cliche music for neurology stories? I'm serious. I don't know who started it.

  • ||

    Why can't a libertarian be a psychopath?

  • ||

    All the psychopaths, like you, are authoritarians, like you.

  • ||

    Leaving aside your diagnosis of me personally, that doesn't jibe with the fact that most psychopaths act in ways which the authorities disapprove of.

  • Bingo||

    Psychopaths seek personal enrichment at the expense of others. It's like taking the narcissism and self-righteousness of the strongest objectivist without any of the morality that forms the core of the philosophy.

    You're mistake is that you think all psychopaths are murderers or serial killers. That isn't the case. Boardrooms and political offices can be a wonderful environment in which to enrich yourself at the expense of others.

  • ||

    Psychopaths seek personal enrichment at the expense of others.

    That's a seriously broad definition of psychopathy. I mean, most people probably fit that definition.

  • tarran||

    That makes no sense.

    The majority professional athletes would be psychopaths under that rubric, and that's not borne out regarding their crime stats at all.

  • ||

    Ben Roethlisberger and Francisco Rodriguez notwithstanding.

  • RAE CARRUTH||

    That's what I was saying!

  • ^||

    Cite? I would think that most psychopaths get jobs where there acts are accepted as normal, like in law enforcement.

  • ^||

    "There" should obviously be "their."

  • ||

    what's wrong with they're?

  • Apogee||

    There's no They're there.

  • .||

    Yeah, but wherever they go, there they are.

  • Psychic Octopus||

    Many authoritarians resent authoritarians who don't coincide with their preferred things to be authoritarian about.

  • JB||

    That's because they don't like the competition.

  • Almanian||

    Must be the "genetics" part. Nothing else makes sense...

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    You've never heard someone bemoan "those crazy libertarians"?

  • Lefty4Life||

    The criteria for being a psychopath precludes libertarianism, although a psychopath could easily fake it.

  • ||

    How does it preclude libertarianism?

  • Lefty4Life||

    Mainly in that psychopaths cannot recognize the rights of others or accept personal responsibility.

  • ||

    Just watched the video. It's a bunch of warmed-over phrenology updated for the 21st century intellectual palate.

    The main ingredient for psychopathy is just getting sick of pretending. Running out of bullshit, as the man on Network put it. Psychopaths are more rational than the rest of us, if anything.

  • Bingo||

    It's a bunch of warmed-over phrenology updated for the 21st century intellectual palate.


    You're seriously an idiot. Various sections of the brain do control certain functions, otherwise lobotomies wouldn't work.

    The main ingredient for psychopathy is just getting sick of pretending. Running out of bullshit, as the man on Network put it. Psychopaths are more rational than the rest of us, if anything.


    Seek therapy.

  • ||

    Oh, I haven't run out of bullshit just yet, so no need to worry about me.

  • jester||

    Honestly, Tulpa, it is a far cry from 'phrenology' as most of us understand it, which was an attempt to 'scientifically' show the 'white-man's' intellectual superiority. Of course, in the process, it proved itself untrue.

    The neuroscience he's talking about shows that we should be valued as individuals not as groups. Also it concerns itself with brain structure, not skull structure. Big difference.

  • HANNIBAL LECTER||

    Amateurs

  • Atanarjuat||

    I love the "random" inclusion of a photo of the US Capitol right after he talks about people who are charming, manipulative, and aloof.

  • Atanarjuat||

    (That is, the one about 5 minutes in, not the one later where he actually mentioned the government).

  • Ryan M||

    I'm somewhat scared of his suggestion near the end that they should do a study to look at libertarians' brains... we've already heard some half-joking rumblings of libertarianism and/or conservatism being considered as a mental disorder. I'd hate for some scientists who don't have a problem firing someone whose research conclusions don't match their political ideology to have a hand in that research.

  • Michael Savage||

    Liberalism is a mental disorder.

  • Slowburnaz||

    Classical or modern? Mr. Savage never makes that distinction.

  • Cyto||

    All forms of authoritarianism are mental disorders. Does that about cover it?

  • Tom||

    Since he says it in the present, then it's safe to assume that he means modern.

  • ||

    According to the DSM, the following are characteristics of the sociopathic personality:

    A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since the age of 15, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

    1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
    2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
    3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
    4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
    5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
    6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
    7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

    Lots of internet commenters, apparently, are sociopaths.

  • ||

    7 fits every leftist.

  • ||

    7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

    Not true. In a leftist mind the "another" they take from are not human. This is not rationalizing. It is a pre-switch the marks those who they don't like as inhuman. If there is a rock in the road you never contemplate that the rock has feelings. A switch was pulled before any empathy comes into play saying "rock is not human" so instead of talking to the rock they stop the car pick up the rock and throw it out of the way and keep driving.

  • .||

    Fuck, dude, I talk to the rock plenty. I also talk to the goddamned car when it won't start. I even talk to this computer at times. ;-)

  • ||

    Criteria 7 is what distinguishes a sociopath from a psychopath. Sociopathy is more prevalent in society than psychopathy.

    Tulpa, do you not believe distinct areas of the brain (eg, basal ganglia) are correlated with distinct functioning (cognition of certain emotional states - fear)? Phrenology studied the protrusions on a person's head. This is markedly different than brain imaging. Don't white wash evolving scientific methodology with human ignorance from the past. Or maybe your dad got upset and beat you because you were hitting on your mom.

  • ||

    I'm not a neurologist, but my understanding was that the organization of the brain is very general. That there are sections controlling emotions in general (the amygdala iirc) but that it was impossible to pinpoint areas responsible for specific things like ethics, love, pride, etc.

  • T||

    Lots of internet commenters, apparently, are sociopaths.

    Or assholes.

  • ||

    See my explinatin that rocks are not human.

    When talking on the internet there are a lot of things missing that would normally attach a person to what that person is saying.

    On the internet i donot get a voice or a face only some letters that may or may not be associated with a persons name.

    It is really easy put down talk shit to and dehumanize a few letters strung together then it is to a real human voice or face or both.

  • ||

    This is the explanation for every Radley Balko post...

    How many cops don't demonstrate 5 of 7?

  • alan||

    If I were a authoritarian prick, that is just the sort of list I would cobble together under the guise of 'scientific psychology' to keep people in line.

    1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;

    What isn't illegal that isn't fun these days?

    2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

    In other words don't try to be competitive, or gain an upper hand, and any pleasure you feel, you should also feel an even greater burden of guilt.

    2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

    When you cheat on your taxes, everybody pays.

    4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

    Resistance is futile!

    5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others

    Leave the decision making to the professionals. You are one of the little people. That start up you have been saving up for years on, is a reckless disregard for society. Be an employee for a sanctioned employer. Keep your head down, PAY YOUR TAXES!

    6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;

    How is the ruling class expected to keep up our lifestyle if you refuse to cooperate. KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN, PAY YOUR TAXES! DO NOT GO GALT!

    7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

    Hurting, mistreating and stealing. In other words, capitalist.

    Tongue and cheek aside, is this necessarily a politicized list, and what I'm doing a stretch that uglies it up far past what is was intended? When you read 2-7 through the lens of item 1, I think it is quite political given the 'norms' that are evolving. You can't read a single daily newspaper without reading the actions of businessmen being gauged in the language of this list, or the little people being treated in such a way that anything but total compliance is interpreted as antisocial.

  • alan||

    3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;

    Damn, I guess I got that one in spades. THEY ARE COMING TO TAKE ME AWAY, HA, HA. COMING TO TAKE ME AWAY!

  • ||

    Just like most of the DSM listings, note how many of the criteria depend on the customs, beliefs, and mores of the surrounding society.

    Thomas Szasz went a bit too far in saying there was no such thing as mental illness, but he was right in arguing that a great deal of what the establishment categorizes as mental illness is simply failure to conform to what society wants one to be.

    Also note that what we call sociopathic behavior in humans is actually the norm in the animal kingdom. Just as the orgasm had to be accompanied by the male refractory period to provide an evolutionary advantage, our human ability to reason and question the purpose of our existence had to be accompanied by loads of cultural bullshit to keep us from concluding life was meaningless and turning suicidal or psychopathic.

  • J||

    Given that the word "sociopathic" implicitly refers to society, as in a collective of people, I don't think this is a fair assertion.

    Animals have much less complex societies, but even there some behaviors are acceptable to the group and some are not. A type of sociopathic definition still exists.

  • Ray Pew||

    A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since the age of 15, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

    So from my debates with numerous Leftists, who argued that there is no such thing as "rights", then psychopaths can't exist.

  • Robert||

    Libertarians don't kill because we don't have any enemies. We just think we do.

  • ||

    On an entirely different tangent, "Three Ingredients for Murder" would make a great Nero Wolfe title.

  • ||

    "No one ever looks at libertarian's brains that is for sure"

    I volunteer for a brain scan.

  • ||

    Me too. The world is crying out for the insights my brain can provide.

  • fish||

    I consider myself a libertarian and due to a recent health issue I recently had a CAT scan, MRI and EEG.

    Results - Inconclusive for homicide. For generally being an unpleasant prick! Nailed it

  • Rich Jew Doctor||

    Sense of humor also inconclusive

  • fish||

    That would have been extra!

  • Mad Scientist||

    Ooo, creepy. I'm also related to Lizzie Borden. I'd love to see the results of a brain scan comparison of people of different political persuasions. We could have a nice little nature/nuture debate. But because I'm a paranoid libertarian, I want my brain scan to be anonymous.

  • ||

    I wonder if neurofeedback could make a psychopath straight.

  • AblueSilkworm||

    Huh? Was he gay before? Nttwt..

  • ||

    In the words of Bugs Bunny, quit being so dang litral. I meant turn a psycho into someone who doesn't wanna chop off peoples arms and use them as ceiling fan blades.

  • ||

    Dismembered arms don't work that well as ceiling fan blades. Sternums are a little better for that purpose but you need a bunch of them to make it worthwhile.

  • skr||

    scapulae are definitely the way to go.

  • Sean Mack||

    I don't have a video clip with cool music to explain this, but I have discovered an infallible way to identify and define psycopaths. According to my criteria, you must be:

    1.) A white murderer, who has been...
    2.) Recognized by the media, and who...
    3.) Poses no threat to whatever hypothesis I am using your shrunken brain / jailhouse memoir / nonsensical ravings / dubious childhood memories to prove.

    Luckily for all of us, that doesn't make for a very long list...

  • fendi bags||

    There are ~100,000 troops tilting at the windmill of creating a stable competent government in Afghanistan (we've given up on representative democracy there a long, long time ago).

    Nixon did a better job ending Vietnam.

  • mike||

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  • perruques||

    I have bookmarked you! Looking forward to more soon

  • ray ban||

    I'm somewhat scared of his suggestion near the end that they should do a study to look at libertarians' brains... we've already heard some half-joking rumblings of libertarianism and/or conservatism being considered as a mental disorder. I'd hate for some scientists who don't have a problem firing someone whose research conclusions don't match their political ideology to have a hand in that research.

  • Nike Dunk High||

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