The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain

The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain

3.7 7
by James Fallon
     
 

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“The last scan in the pile was strikingly odd. In fact it looked exactly like the most abnormal of the scans I had just been writing about, suggesting that the poor individual it belonged to was a psychopath—or at least shared an uncomfortable amount of traits with one....When I found out who the scan belonged to, I had to believe there was a mistake

Overview

“The last scan in the pile was strikingly odd. In fact it looked exactly like the most abnormal of the scans I had just been writing about, suggesting that the poor individual it belonged to was a psychopath—or at least shared an uncomfortable amount of traits with one....When I found out who the scan belonged to, I had to believe there was a mistake....But there had been no mistake. The scan was mine.”

For the first fifty-eight years of his life James Fallon was by all appearances a normal guy. A successful neuroscientist and medical school professor, he’d been raised in a loving, supportive family, married his high school sweetheart, and had three kids and lots of friends.

Then he learned a shocking truth that would not only disrupt his personal and professional life, but would lead him to question the very nature of his own identity.

The Psychopath Inside tells the fascinating story of Fallon’s reaction to the discovery that he has the brain of a psychopath. While researching serial murderers, he uncovered a distinct neurological pattern in their brain scans that helped explain their cold and violent behavior. A few months later he learned that he was descended from a family with a long line of murderers which confirmed that Fallon’s own brain pattern wasn’t a fluke.

As a scientist convinced that humans are shaped by their genetics, Fallon set out to reconcile the truth about his brain with everything he knew about the mind, behavior, and the influence of nature vs. nurture on our personalities. How could he, a successful scientist and a happy family man with no history of violence, be a psychopath? How much did his biology influence his behavior? Was he capable of some of the gruesome atrocities perpetrated by the serial killers he had studied?

Combining his personal experience with scientific analysis, Fallon shares his journey and the discoveries that ultimately led him to understand that, despite everything science can teach us, humans are even more complex than we can imagine.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/09/2013
Is author Fallon a law-abiding research scientist and family man or a dangerous psychopath? In this memoir-meets-pop-sci examination of psychopathy, Fallon discovers, to his initial surprise, that he has brain functions similar to a cohort of hardened criminals. The book takes chapter-length looks at the neurological features, possible genetic and epigenetic causes, and developmental triggers of psychopathy, with detours through Fallon’s personal and familial history. Unfortunately, Fallon’s memoir of realizations is emotionally flat (which is perhaps unfair criteria to judge a psychopath by), lazily assembled, and amounts to little more than a confessional booth’s enumeration of sins. He cheats with his kids at Scrabble, parties too hard, alienates his co-workers, and takes his brother to an Ebola-infested cave and considers using him as lion bait. These vices, Fallon is happy to tell you, provide him a great deal of malevolent glee, though there is little pleasure for readers to bask in—Fallon’s narration is too sterile and, ironically, too self-serving to ever entice the reader. For a quick overview of current theories of brain science and mental illness, Fallon’s book is useful; for insight into foreign mental and emotional territories, look elsewhere. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
The Psychopath Inside is a deeply compelling personal story of an eminent scien­tist’s discovery of his own psychopathy. Jim Fallon confesses the sins of his biology and in doing so receives the absolution of being human. I couldn’t put it down.”
—PAUL J. ZAK, PhD, author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity

“As comprehensive as it is compelling, essential reading for understanding the genetic and neuroscience underpinnings of psychopathy.”
—M. E. THOMAS, author of Confessions of a Sociopath

“Just the word ‘psychopath’ is enough to grab anyone’s attention and it has inspired numerous TV shows and films for many decades. In truth, I believe the word itself does little to wrap its arms around the infinite behavioral traits psychopaths pos­sess, for good and bad. Fallon lets us inside his mind as he takes us on a deftly woven journey, breaking down every convention of psychopathic behavior.”
—SIMON MIRREN, former executive producer of Criminal Minds

“In a thought-provoking account of self-exploration, Fallon puts himself ‘under the microscope’ in an attempt to make sense of how his own biological and developmental history has shaped his life. His perspective on psychopathy pushes us to consider the important roles of nature and nurture, and the fine line between adaptive and mal­adaptive personality traits.”
—JOHN F. EDENS, PhD, professor of psychology, director of clinical training, and Cornerstone Faculty Fellow, College of Liberal Arts, Texas A&M University

"An intriguing look into the dark side of the brain. A must-read for anyone curious about why our brains think our darkest thoughts and how many of us go into states of psychosis without even realizing it. Dr. Fallon's study of my own brain helped me come to terms with my strangest ideas and why I function the way I do.  Few people understand the brain as well as Dr. Fallon, and can write about it in such a fun and engaging way.  A fascinating read."
—ELI ROTH, writer, director, and producer
 
“Absorbing, insightful and quirky”
Kirkus

“His surprising final diagnosis could broaden the way we see normality.”
Nature journal

Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-01
A neuropsychologist makes the shocking discovery that his brain scans are identical to those of serial killers. In 2005, Fallon (Psychiatry and Human Behavior/Univ. of California, Irvine), a self-described "mechanistic, reductionist, genes-control-all scientist," was studying the brains of criminal psychopaths when he found a scan of his own brain, which was in use as a control for a research study on Alzheimer's patients. To his surprise and disbelief, he noticed his scan shared identical features with those taken from actual psychopathic killers, which he was analyzing for a different project. Apparently, he "shared [with them] a rare and alarming pattern of low brain function in certain part of the frontal lobes--areas commonly associated with self-control and empathy." At first, Fallon doubted the validity of his initial hypothesis that such a scan was a valid means of identifying criminals with psychopathic tendencies. He was a well-respected, happily married father of three well-loved children, and he had a thriving research and teaching career. His life belied the characteristics of the typical psychopath, who may be a "glib and disarmingly charming" risk-taker but is also coldhearted, manipulative and cruel. Fallon relates the painful story of how he came to recognize certain traits within himself that did not result in criminal or even immoral behavior but were nonetheless distressing to his friends and family. In the years following the first and subsequent similar scans, he explored his behavior and relationships more deeply and came to a sobering recognition that he was indeed lacking in empathy, "was superficial, grandiose, and deceitful" and had unwittingly hurt people close to him. Yet he had escaped becoming a criminal and instead was a "prosocial psychopath" whose adventurous risk-taking side benefitted society. Absorbing, insightful and quirky.
Library Journal
10/01/2013
Fallon (emeritus, Univ. of California-Irvine), a research neuroscientist whose work with position emission tomography (PET) brain scans and genetic maps of convicted murderers revealed his own propensity toward psychopathology, relates in memoir form how his early family experiences and intellectual strength helped him succeed in life. Descriptive analysis of brain functions and cognition and, later, genetic code are clearly communicated for the general reader, as is the explanation of Robert D. Hare's Psychopathy Checklist, a psychodiagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopathy. The personal side of the story is less intriguing, owing to the author's seeming lack of empathy. The reader is thus subjected to moments when self-aggrandizement and fatuous bad behavior are less compellingly or entertainingly conveyed than in comparable passages in Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. VERDICT The book does a fair job of documenting the growing social psychology trend, which observes the shifting of behavior norms and expectations toward the pathological, but falls short of fully engaging the reader and will likely appeal most to discerning specialists.—Kellie Benson, Oakton Community Coll. Libs., Des Plaines, IL

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781591846000
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/31/2013
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.96(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“As comprehensive as it is compelling, essential reading for understanding the genetic and neuroscience underpinnings of psychopathy.” —M. E. THOMAS, author of Confessions of a Sociopath

“Just the word ‘psychopath’ is enough to grab anyone’s attention and it has inspired numerous TV shows and films for many decades. In truth, I believe the word itself does little to wrap its arms around the infinite behavioral traits psychopaths pos­sess, for good and bad. Fallon lets us inside his mind as he takes us on a deftly woven journey, breaking down every convention of psychopathic behavior.” —SIMON MIRREN, former executive producer of Criminal Minds
“Absorbing, insightful and quirky” –Kirkus

“His surprising final diagnosis could broaden the way we see normality.” –Nature

Meet the Author

James Fallon is an award-winning neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, where he has taught neuroscience to medical students, graduate students, and clinicians in psychiatry and neurology for thirty-five years. His start-up company, NeuroRepair, was voted top new biotech firm of the year by a national association of its peers and has engineered major breakthroughs in stem-cell research. He has been married to his wife for forty-four years and has three children.

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The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too little material for a book. He talks mostly about his childhood, but he's not really interesting enough to write a book about. The one point of interest is this PET scan that doesn't actually have any scientific basis, as he himself states. He has only a "feeling" for what a pychopath is to him, which he attempts to reinforce with evidence that his ancestors some 800 years removed were violent. Which I'm pretty sure isn't a strong case for a family history of anything since nearly everyone's ancestors were violent at some point in the last 1000 years. This book honestly just came across as a guy who likes to talk about himself. Which is fine if you've done something great. But this guy hasn't done much of anything. He's met some people who have, but saying that your mother knew George Carlin doesn't make you funny. Which this book is lacking in for a guy who (repeatedly) tells everyone he's charming. I was genuinely bored with this book.
RLM0 More than 1 year ago
If you are interested in Psychology/Abnormal Psychology, this is something you want to read. I recommend it.
bayareagirl More than 1 year ago
Written in one sitting in one of hypo mania times?  Disordered and jumbled and yes nuggets of useful information are in here, but needed an editor. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the author repulsive and yet likeable. He must have the best family because they have shown unconditional love. Nurture wins this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What? I no understand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dark green tunic with a a hat that is the same color as tunic * like links cloths* dirty blond hair blue pericing eyes blue hoop earing on right ear when mad color fades from him and his eyes turn black and red * white part black and pupples red* and bloodstreams from them and has a sword made of human blood and its was a master sword and speaks english and hylian he is half dead tanish pants and dusky brown boots tannish color skin <p> Thats ben