Brain image shows relative of Lizzie Borden is a psychopath

WASHINGTON, November 25, 2013 — A descendant of famed murderess Lizzy Borden, neuroscientist James Fallon, has made a remarkable discovery: his brain scan revealed he is, by all accounts of science, a psychopath.

While researching at UC Irvine in October 2005, Fallon was examining thousands of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans of serial killers to determine anatomical patterns of the brain that correlated to psychopathic tendencies.

He had a mix of scans from depressives, schizophrenics, Alzheimer diseased and normal brains in front of him. He also had scans from his family members and himself.

The Smithsonian blog quoted Fallon as saying, “At the bottom of the stack was a scan that was obviously pathological” because certain areas of the brain, the frontal and temporal lobes, that are linked to sympathy, empathy and self-control ‘light up’ on the scan.

Fallon discovered the scan was of his brain.

Fallon has studied the brains of psychopaths for over 20 years, focusing on the differences between how the brains of killers differ from the rest of society.

He told NPR in 2010 that he became interested in studying his own brain after his mother told him about his violent ancestors. His great-grandfather Thomas Cornell was hung in 1867 for murdering his own mother, and that same gene pool produced seven other murderers including LIzzy Borden.

Borden was famously accused, and controversially acquitted, of killing her father and her stepmother with an ax.

At first, Fallon said he thought the PET scan machine was malfunctioning only to find it was not. Fallon set out for multiple genetic tests only to further discover he had “All these high-risk alleles (one member of the alternative forms of a gene that may occupy a specific position on a specific chromosome) for aggression, violence and low empathy.”

“I’ve never killed anybody or raped anyone so the first thing I thought was maybe my hypothesis was wrong,” Fallon told the Smithsonian magazine, but it wasn’t and the genetic testing supported his findings.

Fallon came to the conclusion he is a psychopath but what he calls “the good kind”; a pro-social psychopath. This is a term he issues to describe a psychopath that truly does have issues with empathy and sympathy but keeps his behavior within the confines of what may be considered as ‘normal’.

Not all psychopaths kill or rape yet may exhibit other indicative behaviors, although Fallon admits to being manipulative and less than empathetic.

“I’m obnoxiously competitive. I won’t let my Grandchildren win games,” he told Smithsonian. He goes on to explain he is, by his own admission considered an “as*****” and “I do jerky things just to piss people off” and admits being aggressive.

Fallon claims in his publications that his genetic influence was offset by a loving, nurturing childhood indicating nurture, for the most part, overcame nature.

Fallon cites another source of normalcy and ability to override genetics describing it as “free will” which allows him to work on his obnoxious behaviors and tendencies and to now consider “The right thing to do” and to “consider others feelings” as if this was not a concept that had previously crossed his mind.

Fallon has authored a book titled The Psychopath Inside and describes in detail his thinking as compared to other less controlled psychopaths.

Fallon asserts his new thinking is not “because I am suddenly nice. I am doing it because of pride; because I want to show to everyone I can pull this off.”

Perhaps, spoken like a true psychopath.


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist


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Paul R. Mountjoy

Paul Mountjoy is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science

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