Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dr Olaf's not alone! A brain doc with a family history of madness

I just came across an NPR story on neuroscientist James Fallon--a man who, inspired by his mother's comment ("Jim, why don't you find out about your father's relatives? I think there were some cuckoos back there."), began looking into his family history. His finding?
There's a whole lineage of very violent people — killers.
His great-grandfather murdered his mother and was subsequently hanged; another relative (later acquitted) was accused of killing her father and stepmother with an ax. All together, Dr. Fallon found seven alleged murderer relatives.

Dr. Fallon, who has dedicated much of his career to studying the brain of psychopaths, decided to see if any of his living relatives possessed a killer's brain. He scanned his wife, his mother, his siblings, his children, and himself. The only brain scan that revealed an inactive orbital cortex (which he and other scientists believe might lead to troubles with impulse control and moral decision-making) was... his own! He also tested DNA for genes that are associated with violence and discovered that he had "the pattern, the risky pattern. In a sense, I'm a born killer."

Whether his relationship to violence informed his career choice or not, Dr. Fallon reminds me of Dr. Olaf, who struggled to find a cure in the brain for the madness that plagued his family (only Dr. Fallon has had much better time of it!) The internet reveals that he has branched out to study the brains of dictators as well.

Read the whole story about Dr. Fallon here.

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