What Makes a Killer?

Jim Fallon, a notable neuroscientist from the University of California, discusses what contributes to the makings of a serial killer, whether it’s the old age argument of nature vs nurture or something more complex like a person’s genes. Choosing this topic as I found the title of it to be intriguing; Fallon explores how society ends up with news or cases of psychopathic killers. Fallon describes how his colleagues give him brains to analyze, however, it’s a blind experiment as he isn’t given information on which brain belongs to a killer and which one is a regular person. Overall, Fallon notes that he’s analyzed over 70 different brains and because of the analyzation has come up with a bunch of differing data.

The data goes over different variables, such as genetics, brain damage, interaction with the environment, with a study on how each variable impacts which section of the brain and how much. In his research, Fallon attempted to look for a connection between all 3 variables and how that relates to ending up with a psychopathic killer, which all depends on when as he puts it “the damage occurs.” Fallon points out that at all of the brains he looked at, those who were a serial killer had damage to their orbital cortex. Along with that a high risk gene known as MAOA, which is mostly transmitted from mother to son’s because it can be given via the X chromosome. The MAOA gene is typically shown to lead to severe aggressiveness and is commonly found in male’s, many of whom end up as killers. The MAOA gene develops due to too much serotonin in the brain during fetal development which makes the brain become sensitive to the presence of it later on in life.

Fallon then goes on to say that in order for the MAOA gene to be expressed, young boys have to be exposed to cases of extreme violence which can lead to disaster. And with these genes, they can tend to become concentrated in the population especially if the genes continue to be passed on. Fallon then slips into his own anecdotal story about his family, in which his mother after hearing he’d been giving talks about psychotic killers explores their family tree and how Fallon discovered his relation to Lizzie Borden and several other murders throughout history on his father’s side of the family.

What I found interesting about Fallon’s talk however is that even though he goes on constantly about how there are certain variables that can be found that are common among psychotic killers, these same variables can be found in people around the world who object to war or live morally good lives. People like Fallon’s own family as well. Overall this talk seemed to be fairly trustworthy as Fallon had his own extensive set of research, even going so far as to do scans of his own family’s brains to bolster the points he was making in his TED talk.

Based on the information presented in the TED talk, it would be interesting to have a research study that analyzes how brains in a comatose state function and what happens to the brain when a comatose person wakes up. In order to conduct such an experiment there would need to be a large sample pool of brain scans of people who were comatose, people who aren’t, and people who were comatose either due to medical intervention or other reasons but woke up.


One thought on “What Makes a Killer?

  1. Your research study idea is such a good idea! I think it would be very interesting to analyze how brains in a comatose state functions and how it differs when a person wakes up. I think this idea would be interesting to test to find out what kind of activity occurs in a humans brain when they are in a coma. I think that it would be interesting to see what the differences in a person who was put into the coma medically are compared to a person that was put into a coma for other reasons.
    I also watched this TED Talk and I was very interested in his talk and his topic. Your post describes this talk very well, and I got the same information from his TED talk. Your research study idea was very interesting and I enjoyed reading your post. Great post!


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