on October 31, 2013
The Psychopath Inside revolves around a single event. It began in 2004, when the author, a retired professor of anatomy and neurobiology, was asked by controversial psychiatrist Daniel Amen to analyze PET brain scans of about 50 killers. Amen had characterized some of his subjects as impulsive killers; others, as psychopaths. When Fallon did a blind analysis, he was able to distinguish between the two groups based on the psychopaths' pattern of brain activation. Primarily, they showed a diminished level of activity in the limbic cortex, which regulates emotion. (While not giving precise data on his accuracy, the never-modest author assures us that he "nailed it.") The following year, he discovered by happenstance that he himself shared that same abnormal pattern of brain activity.
Unfortunately, this hook is far too thin to sustain an entire book. So we end up with a convoluted mishmash: Lengthy expositions on brain anatomy and genetics, alternating with superficial musings on his own personal history. We learn that he is a cad: He partied too hard in college, he flirts with other women, he disappoints friends and colleagues, he puts family members in dangerous situations. Worst of all, he confesses, he just doesn't care. All this, he conveniently blames on his defective brain.
But, as every student of science knows, an "N of 1" does not a convincing case make. We don't know the base rate of this type of brain functioning among the normal population, or among academics or researchers such as Fallon. All we know is that his brain was similar to some unspecified proportion of 50 brain scans of killers. He attempts to bolster his case by dredging up the murderous proclivities of some far distant ancestors, saying they likely carried the "warrior gene" that programs for violence. But who among us, at least those of us of Anglo-Saxon heritage, couldn't find murderous ancestors if we searched hard enough? Again, we aren't privy to the base rates of violence among males in the times and places that his ancestors inhabited.
The current cultural obsession with psychopathy has allowed Fallon to make a second career out of his accidental discovery. With his superficially compelling first-person account, he has become a self-anointed expert on the psychopathic brain, appearing on TV shows including an episode of the CBS crime series Criminal Minds. His rigid genetic determinism fits well with the dark and fatalistic vision of humanity that dominates in this era of mass incarceration. By rooting criminality in biology, the iconic psychopath foregrounds intrinsic evil, thereby marginalizing social problems and excusing institutional failures at rehabilitation. (For more on the debate over the nature of psychopathy, see NPR's "Expert Panel: Weighing the Value of a Test for Psychopaths.")
Ultimately, The Psychopath Inside demonstrates Fallon's intimate familiarity with brain circuitry and functioning. But it also exposes his startling ignorance of the larger historical and cultural forces that influence human behavior.
on January 20, 2014
Full disclosure: I am a colleague and friend of Jim Fallon, which means I got a double benefit from reading The Psychopath Inside. I learned much about the brain of a psychopath, but just as important, I learned something about why Jim feels compelled to live life as fully as humanly possible. As the reviewers note, his book is different. In his attempt to reveal the mind (or is it the "brain"?) of a high functioning socio-psychopath, Jim confesses to personal behaviors and attitudes that few others would. Contrary to what other readers presumed, this book is not an attempt to undertake "science." Rather, the book is a memoir of the life of a scientist who discovered that he has the problem that he has studied for many years as a neuroscientist, which means he offers two sources of insight.
The book raised a bunch of puzzles for me, one of which is this: How can Jim Fallon reconcile his self-professed libertarian political views with determinism (under which people's behavior is 100 percent determined by genetic and environmental forces outside of their control). Might not their political propensities also be determined? Maybe he can't help himself? Will have to raise the issue with Jim.
on January 4, 2014
Writer was so self absorbed, it was irritating. Also he could have said the same in much less time, there was too much fluff and repetition. A lot of what he uses as examples of psychopathy are normal variants of emotion and behavior. I believe he is trying to fit his actions to match his theories, why not just say his theories are not hard science?
on March 22, 2014
This book sounded like it might be worthwhile, but it turns out to be shallow and self-serving. Kind of like a...narcissist? This is really about how Fallon thought he might be a psychopath, but isn't. He has bi-polar disorder and is shallow and self-serving. That just isn't that interesting, although the diagnosis does seem to fit, based on this book.
There are a lot of personal details that he finds interesting ("I was Catholic School Boy of the Year!") but this ends up being a grandiose and boring autobiography. He never tells us what his score on the Hare checklist really is (then the book would be too short!), but he does tell us that he did many things that endangered other people, doesn't really care about people, and "almost" cheated on his wife many times. Oddly, his wife did not blurb this book. I wonder what this guy thinks "almost" means? He tells us that many, many, people find him incredibly charming. Really?
Since he turns out not to be a psychopath, but he thought his PET scan indicated he was, you would think he would revisit the issue of just exactly what a PET scan can really tell us about psychopaths. However, since he isn't really interested in that, you never get the follow up. What IS he interested in? Getting attention, making himself looking good, and money.
Diagnosis: self-aggrandizing jerk who wrote a mediocre, over-hyped book.
on December 2, 2013
Reading this book is an extraordinary experience. As the author, a brain researcher of international stature, unpeels his own life and psyche, going deeper and deeper as the memoir proceeds, something happens to the reader. As he admits to us some of the most self incriminating thoughts and experiences ever written by a professional or family man, especially one with such impeccable credentials and credibility, I found myself examining my own life in a similar way. He subtly coaxes you into reflecting on your own own motivations. It is a revealing and for me even freeing read. His personal story is weaved with sophisticated but remarkably accessible scientific descriptions on the brain, psychiatry, genetics, and medicine as a whole. I felt like I received the wealth of a year of advanced science education in just a thoroughly enjoyable three hours it took me to read it. This guy is a fantastic teacher, and one who may challenge what you think and feel about your own life.
on April 26, 2015
I think this was a generally well-written book that the author wrote about himself, after finding that he has the brain scan exactly as those of the psychopaths he studies.
He wants to dress up his behaviors as ‘psychopath lite’, but as you read the book it is extremely plain that he IS A PSYCHOPATH. He wants to make out that he isn’t a psychopath because he “never killed anybody”, but that is simply a con, as being in the profession he is, and having the training he has, he knows darn well that most psychopaths do not ever kill. But, not having ever killed does not make them "NOT a psychopath". The fact that Fallon wants to play fast and loose with the truth, and tries playing this con job on us (and perhaps on himself), is just further proof of him being a psychopath. But, we don’t even need to go by that. Just going by all the things he writes about in his book, he is PLAINLY A PSYCHOPATH!
He also terms himself a ‘pro-social psychopath’. Well, he can call himself anything he wants; he may be a lot of fun to be around, or at a party, but when you get down to it there is nothing ‘social’ about him. He is actually dangerous to have as a friend, a brother, any sort of relative, etc. He is a self-absorbed, arrogant, selfish person, who always puts himself first. And, worse yet, he puts those around him in actually physical danger to their very life, for the sole reason of having a ‘thrill’. How is that pro-social?
I never have understood why psychopaths would actually put themselves and those around them in real danger to health and life, but the picture he painted of how he purposely took his brother on an adventure that he himself knew ahead of time might very well end in their deaths (course he didn’t forewarn his brother) - and then when the absolute risk of dying arrived, he hid behind his brother, and told his brother, “You be in front of me and die, but I have to stay alive because I have a family”. (Imagine how that kind of behavior makes those subjected to it feel...) And, all along he got a tremendous THRILL out of the risks and danger involved. A psychopath has to find any way they can to stimulate a ‘thrill’ cause they are so ‘dead’ inside - even if they themselves, or someone close to them might die from their behaviors.
Another point that really struck me in this book is his telling of how, when a psychopath is playing with their own small children even, that the psychopath has to 'win' at the games. A normal person will give their children a break, let them win even, but a psychopath goes all out to win even with their own small children. I had seen this with a psychopath in the family, but never understood it. Now I more clearly see the cold heartlessness of the psychopath.
It’s no wonder that his own children turned away from him. It’s a shame his wife didn’t. I am sure she suffered greatly from his cheating, and his other behaviors. Oh, in the book he tries to ‘dress that up’ too, and claim he did a lot of risqué behaviors, but never actually cheated. I don’t believe that for a minute. I think that was stuck into this book cause he knew his wife would be reading it. But, inside himself he is winking to himself, knowing what a cheating dog he is…
Even his behaviors that WERE included in this book, show him clearly to be a psychopath. Yet, he admits to his friend, and to us, that there are a number of behaviors so bad that he could not share them. So, I don’t believe in any way whatsoever that he is a ‘psychopath lite’ or a ‘pro-social psychopath’. NOPE. HE IS A VICIOUS COLD-HEARTED PREDATORY PSYCHOPATH - THROUGH AND THROUGH. SOULESS.
on December 3, 2014
Just what we need, another human who uses a mental illness to justify their actions. People who have gone to the lengths this guy has to understand himself has no excuse for awful behaviour. In fact, people like this have a duty and responsibility to go out of there way to act right and not be dicks. I cannot believe I finished reading this garbage, it is literally a man saying, "Look how unique I am, everyone, come see." Nothing about this was fascinating or interesting, I am bored to tears. You are not unique, you're an untreated narcissist, untreated alcoholic, spoiled brat man-child and I pray your wife has had many affairs if not left you. But thank you for not being a murderer, so cliche.
on May 20, 2014
While reaching my book THE SECRET LIFE OF CAPTAIN X: MY LIFE WITH A PSYCHOPATH PILOT I read The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. As a neuroscientist who was amazed to discover he’s a socialized psychopath, I was turned off by his often flat and other times grandiose writing style. Dr. Fallon wrote more about his socializing than a clinical look at his discovery, that he had an antisocial personality disorder. When he did write about it, he mentioned he carried the "warrior gene" Huh? As a victim of a socialized psychopath, I kept wondering about his wife. Psychopathy is not to be taken lightly. This highly hyped book left me confused. Kirkus reviews called it “quirky.” I agree.
on May 10, 2014
The author concludes that psychopaths are needed to push forward progress in civilization. Fallon implies that psychopaths are the reason why social progress towards a civilization happens.
In my opinion the world would be a better place to live if there were no psychopaths. Psychopaths are not needed for any occupation that civilizations have. The reason why psychopaths dominate over people who can feel emotion is because most psychopaths are greedy aggressive people who are incapable of feeling shame or embarrassment. Psychopaths can easily out compete the people who feel emotions for high status jobs but that does not mean that people who feel emotions lack intellect.
on November 30, 2013
James Fallon tries to make a case for why having no capacity for feeling guilt, empathy and real love is a good thing. He gloats over the intoxicating charm of psychopaths, "Maybe an old maid who's been good all her life wants to have that one super-wild fling so she can feel she's lived her life fully." Yeah, that's right Jim, risky behavior with a psychopath can be a real fun time. This is a most disgusting, self-serving work cloaked in the guise of scientific and self discovery.
I will write a longer review later, when I can stomach it.