The definition of psychopathy is an odd pot of soup. Some of its “ingredients” are disgustingly unpalatable, others — when served cold — are quite delectable, though spiced up with heaps of poison:
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior;
- Superficial charm and good intelligence;
- Combination of fearlessness and coldheartedness;
- Stress immunity, absence of “nervousness” or psychoneurotic manifestations;
- Impersonal, trivial and poorly integrated sex life;
- Machiavellian egocentricity and pathological incapacity for love;
- Rebellious nonconformity;
- Blame externalization, untruthfulness and insincerity;
- Carefree “nonplanfulness” (failure to follow any life plan), unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
- and a bunch of other stuff.
Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and a whole bunch of fictional serial killers fit the definition perfectly. It’s not like you’d invite any of those guys to speak on career day or give a college commencement speech.
The snippet of a text above came from the book by Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford. Yet another book about the twisted mind of a psycho? Yes and no.
“One of the reasons why I wrote the book in the first place was to debunk two deep-seated myths that the general public have about psychopaths. Firstly, that they’re either all “mad or bad.” And secondly, that psychopathy is an all-or-nothing thing, that you’re either a psychopath or you’re not”, says the author.
Having some or even many of the psychopathic traits doesn’t mean that these people are born serial killers by default. Their “refrigerated hearts” and “the facades of their brutal, brilliant disguises” might as well make super-spies, Buddhist monks, surgeons, cool lawyers, CEOs or politicians out of them. Excellent news for psychopaths everywhere! Under different circumstances, notorious serial killer and body-snatcher Ed Gein might’ve become a decent cosmetic surgeon…
Asked What is your work going to mean for the future? Kevin Dutton answered:
There was a story in the news not too long ago in which there was a U.S. computer company that deliberately advertised for people who have Asperger’s-like traits, because they know these people are very, very good at focusing on data and seeing patterns. So perhaps one of the things that could happen in the future is that certain kinds of industries might actually deliberately screen for people whose psychopath dials are turned up more than normal.
James (Jim) Fallon, too, is a psychopath. On top of being a confessed and confirmed psychopath, he is professor of psychiatry and human behavior and emeritus professor of anatomy and neurobiology in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine. He is a Sloan Scholar, Senior Fulbright Fellow, National Institutes of Health Career Award, and recipient of a range of honorary degrees, awards, and sits on several corporate boards and national think tanks for science.
Dr. Fallon has been categorized as — and he concurs with — an assessment that he is a pro-social psychopath (someone who has difficulty feeling true empathy for others but still keeps his behavior roughly within socially-acceptable bounds). One fine afternoon in October 2005, he discovered it on his own, while peering into the brain PET scans of serial killers randomly mixed with those of normal people, among which happened to be PET scan of his own brain.
Research in neuroscience shows that anatomical patterns in the human brain correlate to behavioral tendencies. A low activity in certain areas of the frontal and temporal lobes, for instance, is linked to lack of empathy, morality and self-control, all of which qualify as psychopathic tendencies. Dr. Fallon was working on one of the related projects. The peculiarities he discovered while observing psychopathic brains was obvious and none too surprising. A lot more surprising was that the scan of Dr. Fallon’s brain was clearly showing traits similar to those of serial killers.
Dr. Fallon admits he’d always been aware that he was someone especially motivated by power and manipulating others. Besides, his family line included seven alleged murderers, including Lizzie Borden, infamously accused of killing her father and stepmother in 1892.
With rebellious nonconformity of a true psychopath, Dr. Fallon made his discovery into a very public affair — he had become a “career psychopath”, lecturing scientific and laymen audiences, authoring a book with telling title The Psychopath Inside, appearing in a guest role on the television show Criminal Minds and recording TED talk.
“I’m obnoxiously competitive. I won’t let my grandchildren win games. I’m kind of an asshole, and I do jerky things that piss people off,” he says. “But while I’m aggressive, but my aggression is sublimated. I’d rather beat someone in an argument than beat them up,” he admits.
Jim Fallon is convinced that it was his happy childhood that made him into a person he has become regardless of the road-map etched into his brain and predetermined by his genetic makeup. “I was loved, and that protected me,” he says.
Now, I’ll give an unsolicited advise to parents who want their children to become a susses in this world of ours, which — go ahead and contradict me! — is ruled by psychopaths and forever was and will be. Here it is: Whether or not your kids are “born killers”, love and nourish them the best you can. Even if they display Machiavellian egocentricity and pathological incapacity for love, god knows, properly nourished, those tendencies might become their ticket to success.