James Fallon (@jameshfallon) is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine and author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain.
What We Discuss with James Fallon:
- The ingredients that go into creating a psychopath.
- The differences between psychopaths and sociopaths.
- How we as a society can limit the expression of psychopathic and sociopathic traits — and why evolution hasn’t done the job already.
- How to spot a psychopath.
- Why psychopaths are so good at manipulating people — and what we can do about it.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Psychopaths get a bad rap — and, in fairness, it’s often for good reason. The ones who tend to catch the public eye are known for murdering or, at the very least, manipulating the unwary without remorse. But what about the psychopaths who quietly live among us without raising suspicion? Are they all dormant serial killers just waiting for the right moment to strike, or can they contribute positively to society?
Joining us today is Dr. James Fallon — neuroscientist, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California in Irvine, and author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain — to share what he’s learned about psychopaths over his long career. But why is his insight perhaps more valuable than that of your average neuroscientist? Because Dr. Fallon is, himself, a psychopath. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
More About This Show
The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain author Dr. James Fallon (not The Tonight Show host — just getting that out of the way here) was a neuroscientist for quite some time before he discovered he was a psychopath.
While reviewing unlabeled brain scans of his family — collected as “normal” controls for an Alzheimer’s study — James thought one of the technicians was playing a joke on him. While most of the scans looked fine at first pass, he noticed one that didn’t look quite right. From previous research, he was familiar with brain abnormalities common to serial killers and other psychopaths, and here was one looking right back at him.
“I called in the technicians,” says James. “I said, ‘This is very funny.’ In a lab, like anyplace, you kid around with each other, right? I said, ‘Okay, you switched them. You took one of the worst psychopaths from this pile of murderers and you switched it into my family. Hah, hah!’ And they go, ‘No, it’s part of your family.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. This guy shouldn’t be walking around in open society. He’s probably a very dangerous person.'”
James tore back the covering from the name and discovered it was his own.
And then his mother broke the news that he was related to a number of famous psychopaths — including Thomas Cornell (who burned his mother to death in 1673) and Lizzie Borden (suspected but acquitted of murdering her parents with an ax in 1892) — on his father’s side, of course.
Psychopaths and Sociopaths
“About one percent of all cultures — these are all people — are full-blown, categorical, clinical psychopaths,” says James. “But there are probably maybe five percent of people who are borderline — maybe even more than that — who have the traits.”
James himself falls on this borderline, exhibiting prosocial traits common to psychopaths who have learned to adapt and pass in polite society without raising eyebrows.
But what is a psychopath?
“An intraspecies predator,” says James. “A human who is a predator on other humans.”
How does this differ from a sociopath?
“There’s a primary psychopath,” James says. “That’s like your regular psychopath. Then there’s a secondary psychopath, which we call a sociopath.”
Primary psychopaths are biologically primed for their condition by inheriting genes that predispose them toward aggression and then living through some severe trauma early in development — prior to puberty — that chemically cements this psychopathy before a moral code has been instilled in the subject.
Secondary psychopaths, or sociopaths, may be genetically predisposed toward their condition, but they undergo their trauma — like bullying or abandonment — in later childhood when they have at least a basic understanding of what a moral code is.
So the primary psychopath doesn’t even have a moral code. The sociopath knows what a moral code is, but just doesn’t care.
“The psychopath versus the sociopath, they can both have the identical behavior — they could both be killers, they could both be terrorists, they could both be murderers,” says James. “So superficially, they look the same. What’s causing it [is] completely different.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths, the axis of empathy, how emotional and cognitive empathy differ, why James doesn’t believe in the concept of evil, why James isn’t a serial killer in spite of inheriting the biological determinants for psychopathy (and how this fact made him eat crow as a scientist), transgenerational violence as just one case among many for treating people well, how a society under constant siege perpetuates psychopathy (and eventually destroys itself), how to spot a psychopath in the wild, what to do if we discover a psychopath, and lots more.
THANKS, JAMES FALLON!
If you enjoyed this session with James Fallon, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain by James Fallon
- James Fallon at UCI
- James Fallon at Twitter
- Family Tradition: Did Lizzie Borden’s Ancestor Kill His Mother Too? by Jennie Cohen, History
- Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell by Elaine Forman Crane
- Exploring the Mind of a Killer, Jim Fallon at TED 2009
- James Fallon on Criminal Minds
- Coming out of the Crazy Closet: Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness by Ruth C. White, Psychology Today
- Kitum Cave, Atlas Obscura
- The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
- Is Wall Street Full of Psychopaths? by James Silver, The Atlantic
- Toba Catastrophe Theory
- Transposons: The Jumping Genes by Leslie A. Pray, Nature Education
- Do the MAOA and CDH13 ‘Human Warrior Genes’ Make Violent Criminals — and What Should Society Do? by Tabitha M. Powledge, Genetic Literacy Project
- Tabula Rasa
Transcript for James Fallon | How to Spot a Psychopath (Episode 28)
James Fallon: [00:00:00] Yeah, I think it's very important to have enough people in any population that were, first of all, would love to go kill somebody. Also, they are people, especially the thrill seekers, love to go over the mountain and have sex with anybody they find on the other side. And so psychopathy, which is so stable in all of human society, they can come in handy and they take risks that others don't and they take smart risks.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:26] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. On this episode, we're talking with Dr. James Fallon. He is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine and author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. This is a psychopath who studies psychopaths, but the story of how he discovered he was a psychopath will trip you up. You're never going to believe it. We also discussed the ingredients of a psychopath or a psychopathic brain, sociopath, and the difference between the two and how, we, as a society can limit the expression of psychopathic sociopathic traits in our civilization. And why evolution hasn't bred these personality traits out of existence already. And last but not least, certainly a couple of practicals here, how to spot a psychopath as well as why psychopaths are so good at manipulating people and what we can do about it. Don't forget, we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify all the key takeaways and your understandings here from Dr. James Fallon. That link, as always, in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. All right, here's Jimmy Fallon. And how many people say, “Jimmy Fallon” and make some joke about that, you know, in the last few years, that's got to be your life now.
James Fallon: [00:01:41] Well, I do get that. And Jimmy Fallon did have my book on his show. He shot my book and it was kind of funny because we come from the same area of the country in Upstate New York and went to Catholic schools and we were both class clowns, you know, and so we shared a fair amount of background and so I usually get that, but I get it in the funniest places. It's when I go to the race track and there I'm signing in for something and they go and they'll ask me some wise guy quick question about Jimmy Fallon, so I'll get it all over the place. Do you know what I mean? It's some weird places --at the bank or you know, something like that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:17] Yeah. I would imagine that happens all the time. Yeah. And your reservation? What's the name? James Fallon? Oh, well cool. Nope, it's just me.
James Fallon: [00:02:25] Absolutely. That's exactly it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:28] Yeah. So this was a crazy story I've read about in many other books coming across The Science of the Mind, which made me look you up and reach out to you. Tell us the story of how you were researching this topic and what you found that changed your life.
James Fallon: [00:02:45] I'm a neuroscientist. I do a lot of neuro-anatomy and since about 1989, I've studied the PET scans, you know, brain imaging scans of killers, serial killers, really bad murderers. And you should do one or two a year for many years. And then in 2005-2006, I got sent a ton of them and there were SPECT scans, fMRI, PET scans and everything. And it's something that I'm really wasn't an expert in it all, psychopathy or murderers. I did a lot of other things. We do a lot of work in schizophrenia and addictions and Alzheimer's, you name it. But this was something different. And these were students of mine who became psychiatrist and they were doing these court cases. And so they'd bring these guys in and manacles and the do a PET scan and then I get a call saying, “What do you see?” So I did that for a number of years, one or two a year. And then I was like I said, 2005-2006 I got a bunch of them and I analyze them. I said, “Oh my God, there's a pattern.” So I saw this pattern that nobody had ever described, and it's still the pattern that's agreed upon today because other people who've done this study since then, and they did it better than I did, and they did it really in a rigorous way on the brain patterns of psychopaths.
[00:03:55] So I finished doing those analyses, but at the same time we were doing a clinical study on the genetics of Alzheimer's disease. So we're doing PET scans, Alzheimer's disease, genetics, to look for the other genes that were involved other than the April E there's something missing. As it turns out from the study, we found out what that other missing one was so successful. But anyway, we were finishing that study and we had all the Alzheimer's patients we needed. So we needed normals, just normal controls. So we were really in a bind. We had to write up fast and write it patent up and all this stuff like that. And so I asked my family, that was kind of my first mistake. I said, “Look guys, you want to all get in.” My brothers, my wife in a several test you and the idea being that on my side of the family there was no Alzheimer's at all.
[00:04:44] And but on my wife's side, there was. Her mother and father had Alzheimer's and her brother and her aunt, and so she had a lot of it. And I said, “You know, Dee’, – that’s my wife -- I said, “I don't know if you want to do this, to find out any bad news, right?” And she said, “The hell with it”, because you know she had had lymphoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and she beat it back in 2000-2001 but she said back in 2006 she says, “I'm probably going to die of cancer before I die of Alzheimer's.” This kind of sense of humor is...
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:14] Kind of, yeah nice it’s morbid.
James Fallon: [00:05:15] Oh yeah, it’s really but she is very stoked. But first let's go ahead with it plus the kids find out, the grandkids, what the genes are, and if they based on that, they can maybe change their lifestyle to offset, you know, any nascent oncoming Alzheimer's she don’t stew it.
[00:05:33] So we did it. And the results came back and the two technicians walked into my office and on my right side, I pile all these murderers’ brain scans, and they handed me the pile of my family scans and they were covered up so I couldn't see the names. Now I've seen over a thousand of these, so I could quickly go through to see if there's any gross abnormalities in the PET scans. And so I went through, I went through one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. I was really relieved that they looked at the first pass normal, and so I was very happy about that. And then I got to the last scan and I looked at it. I said, “Okay guys”, I called in the technicians. I said, “this is very funny”, because, you know, in the lab, like any place, you kid around with each other, right?
[00:06:18] And I said, “okay, you switched them. You took one of the worst psychopaths from this pile of murderers and you switched it into my family. Ha ha ha.”
And they go, “No, it's part of your family.” I said, “You got to be kidding. This guy shouldn't be walking around in open society. That's probably a very dangerous person.” They said, “No, they checked the computer, the machine, everything they said it’s somebody in your family.” So I had to tear back the covering on the name of it because at this point it became a public health issue and there was my name and so it's like Gandalf showed up at my door and I was it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:55 ] So you were testing a bunch of people for scientific purposes. You brought in your family to compare some gene samples with people that you know, wouldn't give you a hard time about the privacy and who you could ask plenty of family related questions to. And then you found that your own brain scan was that of a psychopath even though this is what you had been studying for a long time or one of many things that you'd been studying for a long time.
James Fallon: [00:07:22] Well, I just happened to be studying yeah, for a number of years, but it was tertiary and I was it. It was, you know, I got the joke, you know, it's like, “Okay, I've been studying this and then I'm the monster.” So I thought it was funny. And I just laughed. But when that week, when I went home, I told my wife, after a few days, I said, “The damnedest thing happened. I was going through these PET scans, all these murderers, and I saw a pattern”, and I said, “we went through ours. It looked like every ball of you are normal, which is great.” And I said, “but mine looks like, just like the worst psychopath I'd ever seen.” And she goes, “it doesn't surprise me.” Now I just thought she was kidding, right? Because she does kid around. And she goes, you know, after I had reminded her, even you know, a year or two, three years later, and she said, I always had reminded her of, you know, some psychopaths that had been in, you know, movies. And the ones that were murderers, but had all the urges, you know, that was where she got it from. She’s a very honest person and insightful, really bright. I said, “Okay, I get it.” You know, “I'm glib and charming.” She goes, “No, it's a little worse than that.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:37] You're trying to layer it on all the pleasant, “Well, you know, this is my wife. Oh, I get it. I'm a really charming guy.” She's like, “Yeah, that's not what I meant when I said, I'm not surprised you're a psychopath.”
James Fallon: [00:08:47] Yes but I laid out all the pro-social traits that people are drawn to -- Charisma, fearless dominance. And she goes, “Yeah, but not quite.” And so we kind of had fun with it and I did it that at that point I did I think what any scientists would do, I just assumed that my theory was wrong because that's, you know, starting to give talks on this, but it turns out my theory wasn't wrong because other people since then it started to publish the same pattern. So that was kind of a curious thing. But we were so busy, I had started up an adult STEM cell company and I'd be raised about $7 million for that. And so I was very busy doing that. This was for STEM cells for Parkinson's and chronic stroke and also we were doing all these studies, clinical studies on schizophrenia and Alzheimer's and we are so busy with all this stuff.
[00:09:42] I really forgot about it. And when I've talked to people, “So well, how could you ignore this?” Well, I did. I just laughed it off. I didn't even care.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:49] So this is a crazy story. I mean, you're studying brain science, psychopathy, you find out you're a psychopath due to a brain scan. I mean, should we be worried about this? What percentage of the population is a psychopath and just maybe doesn't even know about it?
James Fallon: [00:10:07] Well, Jordan, about 1% of all cultures, these are all people are full blown categorical clinical psychopaths. But there are probably maybe 5% of people who are borderline, maybe even more than that, who have the traits because now in the past 10 years, we don't look at in terms of psychiatric diagnoses, when we do the studies, what we do is we look at the traits of people and there may be, you know, for a psychopath, 20 to 30 traits and for narcissist and all these things.
[00:10:34] We look at the traits and then we use mathematical statistical models to regress that those traits against brain areas, like for PET scans, fMRI and genetics. And that way we form a mathematical model of what genes and brain circuits are involved in every subtype of a disease. So there may be 20-30 kinds of schizophrenia. And so we like the whole point is that when you're trying to treat people, you want to go right to the best treatment. And we were really pioneers for the past 19 years on a thing called imaging genetics, which is what I just described of taking brain imaging, genetics, psychometrics, psychiatric analysis, and then coming up with all the different types of people that have types of Alzheimer's or types of addicts. And then we're able to directly go into the type of treatment that they have.
[00:11:30] You know, the first thing you want to do is like cognitive behavioral therapy and then it may be RTMS which is a very mild stimulation. Then it may be, you know, sleep deprivation for depression. So there's, we go all the way down because the last thing you want to do is surgery. And then before that, the last thing you want us to do drugs. So we're looking at this whole range of them and there are so many different sub-types of these disorders, psychiatric disorders that we don't want to torture people by testing things. This is how it's always been done is, you know, somebody may go through a year of taking different drugs for depression and they could make it worse. And you know, and it's really torture. So we wanted to get right to it. So it was a way of looking at these individual types.
[00:12:12] So we liked to do the same thing with, you know, the psychopathologies. So that's the scientific medical idea of the approach. And so instead of just saying, “Oh, you're a categorical psychopath or categorical schizophrenic”, we like to get all the traits and sub-types and really drill into this and at a much deeper level. But if you look at the traits, people who score on a Hare test, the Robert Hare Psychopathy test, anybody with 28 or 30 or more, it goes from zero to 40 on the scale. Anything more than that is a categorical clinical psychopath. But there are a lot of people who have scored 20, 15, 25 and who are not clinical, categoricals but they have these traits. And those are the people you would tend to run into on your everyday life. You know, your job and people you meet and so you'll see these traits of people, but they're not full clinical. They are, I guess what you call borderline psychopaths. And many people have just pro-social traits. I have the pro-social traits, which sounds sweet, but it really means that they're adaptive and I can navigate through society without raising suspicion. And so those are the people you run into and they can still mess up your life. They may not come across as the full psychopath, but they got enough traits to make your life miserable.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:31 ] So all right, that is definitely a little scary. Let's define what a psychopath is and I know that in the book, in your book, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain, you actually said that it's quite difficult to pin down what exactly this means.
James Fallon: [00:13:51] That's true. The first mistake I think people have gotten because of scientists like me and other people that they may listen to, the first thing is that you can't look at them like a brain scan or genetics and say, “Ah-ha! That's a psychopath or that's a killer.” It's upside down. The correct way and the only way to do it is they first have to be tested by an expert, a psychologist or psychiatrist who's an expert in personality disorders. There are 10 major personality disorders. The people who do the most damage to other people are the cluster B types, which includes a psychopath, narcissistic personality disorder. Those are the people that really do the damage. Other people mostly get tormented themselves, but the other ones are more social, intersocial, and if you look at a psychopath, first cut of a definition, it's an interest species predator that is a human who is a predator on other humans. That's the first sort of cut on it and it says a lot.
[00:14:55] I'll jump to something that's also important. You know, people always talk about psychopaths versus sociopaths and everybody's got a different reason. I use a definition and you can call it what you want, but there's a primary psychopath, that's like your regular psychopath. Then there's a secondary psychopath which we call a sociopath. The primary ones are ones that are biologically primed for psychopathy. Okay. And there are also ones that are not only prime, that is their brain connections and their genetics make them susceptible to early abuse or abandonment. And so if you've got the biology, that brain connections and the genetic allele, that is the forms of genes from your mother and father. So if you inherit, let's say there's 15 warrior genes and you randomly will inherit these from your mother and father, you get different combinations, but you and your brothers and sisters, all of these different combinations.
[00:15:53] So you're not all the same, but your mother and father donating these to you. It is at work and so if you get a high number of those warrior genes, you're going to be very aggressive, competitive person. But that doesn't mean you're a psychopath or a murderer. What it means is that you’re highly aggressive, highly competitive, and these are the people who are, they don't have a clinical syndrome. Other people that are really good at game playing and they know game theory naturally, they take risks at the right time. They tend to win, you would see that in some people, for example, people would see this highly aggressive, highly competitive trait in people they know, or like Donald Trump will in some case like that we don't know is really a psychiatry. But those traits are normal. That is part of the normal spectrum.
[00:16:37] Some people are not competitive at all, they just don't even care if they win. They just want to have a warm fuzzy time with each other. So on the spectrum, depending on the combination of the high and low impact genes for each of the traits. And so this is what makes up humanity and it's most of your personality is genetically-based. Now, once you have the basic genetics and assumes that you're going to grow up in a normal environment, that is, you're going to have a, you know, regular home life and loving parents, or at least not abusive. But if you have these high-risk allele for all these different traits that have to do with psychopathy, which include aggression, emotional empathy, which is different than cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy is the touchy feely thing that you usually have with your best friend. When they're happy, you're happy. When they're sad, you're sad, you mirror their emotions in a very, in a very personal way. That's emotional empathy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:35 ] This episode is sponsored in part by ZipRecruiter. If you are hiring, you know that what? Look, I'll put it this way. If you're hiring and you've done a crap job before, which we all have, every business is going to need those great people and a better way to find them. If you are hiring and you've done a great job, you know how much time it's taken to post your job online, pray for the right person to find it. It’s filter through all the crap that's coming in your inbox and so the phone calls, you have to hire someone just to help you hire someone. ZipRecruiter has a smarter way to do this. They built a platform that finds the right job candidates for you. They learn what you're looking for, they identify the people with the right experience, and then they invite them to apply to your job.
[00:18:16] 80% of employers who post a job on ZipRecruiter get a quality candidate through the site in just one day, which is actually kind of a miracle if you've never hired anyone, you don't realize what that actually means. That is huge. And ZipRecruiter also spotlights the strongest applications you receive, so you don't miss people in sort of this deluge of incoming resumes and things like that. You also get to use their interface. It's not people calling you, you're not getting faxes. If you have a fax machine, you're not getting telegrams, knocked on your door. They're in their interface. You can sort and look at them when you want to. So check it out. We can try ZipRecruiter for free. That's right. We can do it for free. Just go to ziprecruiter.com/Jordan, that's ziprecruiter.com/Jordan. It is indeed the smartest way to hire. Support for the show comes from our friends at Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.
[00:19:05] Quicken Loans is an updated version of the mortgage process and if that doesn't impress you, you've never had a mortgage, mortgage quotes, rates, real time stuff that didn't exist. Rocket Mortgage gets you a client-focused technological mortgage experience, and what that essentially means is if you want to buy a home, you want to refinance your existing home loan, they have a simple interface, you can understand all the details. Be confident you're getting the right mortgage for you, whether it's your first home or your 10th, you'd get this transparent online process so you can make an informed decision, right? Everything's done online. I know that shouldn't be so complicated, but if you've ever done anything with a bank, you're looking at like a phone book worth of paperwork and it's just not necessary. Quicken Loans out of Detroit has made this process a million times easier. Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans – Apply simply. Understand fully. Mortgage confidently. To get started, go to rocketmortgage.com/forbes. Take it away, Jason.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:20:00] Equal housing lender licensed in all 50 States NMLSconsumeraccess.org number 3030.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:08] So to clarify, psychopaths have no or maybe little code for morality in their brain and a sociopath might be like an angry evil super competitive person, but maybe they know morality and they just kind of disregard it?
James Fallon: [00:20:23] Right. And that's where I was headed. So if we go to the psycho peppers or the sociopath, they can both have the identical behaviors. They can both be killers, they can both be terrorists, they can both be murderers. So superficially, they look the same. What's causing it a completely different, for example, with somebody who is genetically wired for all these potential psychopathic traits, if they’re abused or abandoned between birth and three or four years old, mostly two and three years old, this is very bad because it sets up epigenetic marks. That is, it changes the regulators of those genes forever. And so instead of being on and off, because there are times to be aggressive and times not to, there are times to be empathetic, times not to. But the regulators of those genes and they have to do with stress, anxiety also, they get turned down forever because a kid who's born into an abusive environment and is bullied early on or is abandoned, their frontal lobe, that part of the brain, that part of the social emotional brain, what it’s seeing is hostility.
[00:21:28] So that seems to set their brain, the regulators of genes in their frontal lobe for violence. So the way they survived is by being violent themselves. So those are kind of set permanently like that as opposed to being just on or off. I mean you can kill if somebody comes in to tax your family, it's appropriate to kill them. So there's a time for all this stuff. In a psychopath, the context is gone. And also that part of the brain, that part of the frontal lobe, pre-frontal cortex above the eyes, the orbital ventromedial pre-frontal cortex is not regulated correctly. And so that is always turned, you know, off basically in these situations. So you have somebody who's always ready to rumble or always ready to manipulate other people, and so that's how these epigenetic marks work.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:17] Okay? If someone's pre-wired to be a sociopath or a psychopath and they're abused, these traits can come out in a bad way. But if not, if they're not abused, they grew up with a normal childhood, then these might even be invisible. And you might find them on a brain scan after you become a psychiatrist and a scientist and you're studying these things.
James Fallon: [00:22:35] That's right. You would have the traits, but they wouldn't combine into this permanent sort of hostile behavioral pattern. Now, in the case of a secondary psychopath or sociopath, this may be somebody who may be genetically wired that way, but is not abused, let's say, bullied until like nine, 10 years old, right? In that case, most of that brain hass been developed so they have a sense of moral reasoning. So this orbital cortex, ventromedial pre-frontal cortex, develops normally and you get this normal sense of morality. So sociopaths have that. They know what's right and wrong. Whereas the primary psychopath does it, to them, they know you think it's what they're doing is wrong. To them, you know, murder or rape, maybe just like a parking ticket, you know, in terms of how it activates. It's not that they don't know that society thinks it’s wrong, but they don't feel it.
[00:23:27] And so whereas a sociopath knows it's wrong. And therefore in that funny way, a social path is more evil if you will end up really by evil. But if you would say what was more evil, it'd be a sociopath, not a psychopath because a psychopath doesn't even think what they're doing is particularly immoral at all. Right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:46] Right. So the analogy here might be, well I'll leave the analogy to you, but it seems like the genome is kind of like this book, this code book that you're born with and the epigenome, the book that is written by your environment. Those two things have to match up in a certain way in order for these psychopathic or sociopathic traits to come out, right? Epigenetics punctuate the genetic code and make it into something else.
James Fallon: [00:24:15] Right? Every cell in your body has basically the same genes, but which ones are turned on and off. It makes a complete difference. You know, whether it becomes a hair cell or a liver cell or a brain cell. But even within that, these epigenetic changes can change parts of your brain that regulate behavior, just like you said. So those that are regulating a morality and aggression, if they're always turned on, then that person is permanently like that. And that's different than a sociopath or what we call a secondary psychopath. They'll take the same risks, but they react to stress. They worry about what they do. They're very prone to guilt, whereas a psychopath doesn't. They simply will do those things, which makes them harder to catch because if they're caught by the police or by their, you know, spouse doing something, they'd say, “No, that's not, you know, it's just everything's cool.” And since they don't seem to be anxious about it or guilty or the cops or you know, or a parent or somebody who’s judging them, will say, “This is an innocent person.”
[00:25: 21] See they're not guilty. A sociopath when you catch them, they will get really nervous and feel guilt-prone and everything so they can both kill the same amount but for different reasons. And usually the secondary psychopath is a typical pattern is some kid who been bullied when they're like nine or 10 years old or they watched, you know, their family get blown up by a terrorist or something. Or those people want to get even, and they tend to be loners or kind of losers. We're getting even with the world for what happened to them. That's the psychopath. The real psychopath doesn't even care about that. For them it's all just to play a game of predatory play game.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:59] So the environmental stressors that can change in effect the epigenomes are things like drugs, may be anxiety in the mother prenatal, climate, diet, family abuse, that kind of thing. And that can decide whether or not somebody with these wiring, whether this switches get flipped in a way that creates these psychopathy or sociopathy. And you mentioned earlier that you don't really believe in evil. What do you mean by that? Being somebody who studies killers and things like that?
James Fallon: [00:26:27] Well, I'll answer the first question or the first issue, which is that I agree with what you just said and it's true. Okay. So I agree with that. And the second thing about the nature of evil, well there's an Abrahamic sort of idea or most religions have an idea about evil. And part of it is almost always that you have to understand what you're doing is wrong, right? And the people who are psychopaths are a personality disorders. They don't, at a fundamental level, think what they're doing is particularly wrong. And in fact, they may think it's very just, so in that way it doesn't count as evil.
[00:27:04] And usually people who are not psychopaths, what they'll do since they're getting even with the world, you know, which is why, you know, psychiatrists tend to think that like Hitler was not a psychopath. He thought what he would he was doing, because he had some empathy but he thought what he was doing was correct. And part of this you have to jump to another kind of empathy, another axis of empathy. Do you want to hear about that? Because it fits your question.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:32] The axis of empathy. Sure. Let's go down that, you mean like cognitive empathy versus emotional empathy? Is that when we're talking about here?
James Fallon: [00:27:40] No, but that's the first kind, the first axis of empathy that there are brain connections and genetics that wire you for either emotional empathy, that touchy- feely-I-feel-your pain empathy or cognitive empathy, which is, I understand you're in pain. I understand that you are in pain, I don’t feel it, but I understand you have need. So in fact a lot of people with just cognitive empathy can be more involved in charities. They say this people, this group needs help. And so you get these people that are wired for cognitive empathy. They don't feel people's pain, but they understand they have needs. So they actually tend to be involved more with charities. You know, some people are really, they say, “Oh, I care so much”, but they actually don't give any money or time to people in need. It's a funny thing. So they feel it. So they think they're very charitable. But it's really these cognitive empaths that do most of the charity work because it's unemotional, but they understand. So it's an intellectual understanding of need and they follow it.
[00:28:39] Now that's one kind of empathy, but there's another kind of axis of empathy, which is in-group versus out-group, but in-group are people who are basically what they care about is their family. Everything they'll do anything just for the welfare of their family. They don't care about nation or international stuff. They don't care about the poor basically, you know, at any special way or any of those. But they will do anything just for their family. So people are wired for in-group and so that's for family and clan, let's say. At the opposite end are people who are out-group. The ultimate out-group would people they care mostly about the environment, about the earth. They care about all humanity and they have no particular connection or many times with their own family. So if you look at people who have this out-group empathy, some of them are very famous people that would include Gandhi, Mother Theresa, also Nelson Mandela, you know, and Nelson Mandela's daughter talked at his funeral, she said, “This is a great man”, but she didn't want to be his daughter.
[00:29:48] And that's usually what you hear. The same thing with Gandhi and these were all prickly characters. That is, they don't seem to connect to individual people, but they connect with the world. And so they do a lot of great things. But I think people think because these people care about, you know, all the animals or Gaia, you know, or like greens, that they are also care about individual people. They tend not to be. So this is normal wiring of people and so people, if you look at it for in terms of voting patterns under any sort of stress in the society, people will tend to vote according to that level of empathy. So if things get kind of tough or there's some stress or fear they will, the default will be that way. So people will tend, for example, to vote specifically who will lead them that will help their family, right? Whereas under no stress, these people are more likely to be either at one end they'll vote as an internationalist. So you find like a non-violent, honest Marxist. These are pure out-group people or green, you know a green that's kind of non-political green but a green that cares about a Gaia and the environment. That's a normal thing and so they're going to always have an identity, they'll be more connected to, well all the people of the world than their own country.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:06 ] That's interesting. So they can really only, can we have both of these types of empathy at the same time or is this sort of one or the other?
James Fallon: [00:31:13] This would be their default position, which is basically when they go into the voting, you know, they go into the voting box, they will almost always choose according to the types of empathy they have and how they identify. And so a lot of people when they do polls, you know, they'll try to say what seems to be nice. They'll try to be very generous, they tend to say they're out-group. You know, I think in the end of the country, I think of the world or environment and everything, but when they get in the voting booth, they go into this, you know, they'll default to whatever it is. And there are a lot more people who are more in-group people, more family and clan. And so that's why you'll get the polls not lining up with the actual outcomes of elections.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:56] Support for today's show comes from Microsoft Teams. This is your hub for teamwork in Office 365. There's a lot going on in Office 365 and with so much to look after, wouldn't it be great if there was just one place to look? Teams is that single workspace where you can work, share, connect with the people in your work life. They got your chats, meetings, files, apps, all in one place. They've got apps for mobile, apps for desktops or whether you're sprinting toward a deadline or you're sharing your next big ideas. Teams can help you and your team achieve even more. Microsoft Teams and Office 365 visit office.com/teams to learn more. This episode is also sponsored by SmartMouth or as I refer to it in the past, “SmatMath” and people remember that. They even write it in reviews. Somebody wrote SmatMath, love the SmatMath read.
[00:32:45] And that really just comes from me watching too many episodes of Impractical Jokers. But SmartMouth is one of our favorite sponsors of course, because it is the mouthwash that actually freaking works. Now what I love about it is not only that it's got the minty cover up that you expect from any mouthwash, but that it will stop grody-est bacteria from consuming protein, which is really how it stops the proteins from being metabolized and creating volatile sulfur compounds, AKA sulfur gas, which is like that rotten egg sulfur smell combined with all the gross stuff going on in your mouth. Sorry to be graphic, but that's what causes bad breath. SmartMouth has a two-chamber bottle. One is like the activated sulfur eliminator and the zinc ion stuff that just mixes when you pour, activates the magic or the science depending on your belief system and gets rid of that bad breath, that smelly sulfur gas for 12 hours.
[00:33:41] I want to be respectful of everyone, Jason. Some people believe in magic. The rest of us are muggles. So no salt for gas, no bad breath. Find it at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Target, Amazon, wherever you shop. Unless Amazon goes out of business because the president tweets, you know enough times that the stock eventually crashes and implodes or go to smartmouth.com to get an in-depth analysis of how SmartMouth is able to deliver their incredible results.
[00:34:09] One lesson that we're taking from the hard wiring and the nature versus nurture in that we're finding out it's both, is that even though our brains may have certain kinds of wiring and hardware, it doesn't mean we're destined to end up a certain way or with a certain malfunction or a certain condition. And we know that you found that your own brain was that a psychopath? Did you have a fairly normal childhood?
James Fallon: [00:34:30] I had a wonderful childhood and this is what really got me interested because I said, “Look, I've got all the biological determinants and the brain pattern, my genetics were the same thing and completely wired up for the same traits as a psychopath.” But the girl I married was the one I dated at 12 years old. We were both 12 by the way. And we're still married and we've got, you know, three kids and five grandkids. And so this is not what a psychopath looks like. Yeah. Very state stable family life. And those people also, I've had the same job for forever. You know, I'm like a potted plant here at the university. And so I always wanted to be a scientist from the time I was three or four and that's what I became and I was always interested in these things.
[00:35:12] So it's like all those conflicts that people have of what am I going to do with my life? Who am I going to marry? This was a slam dunk from the time I was 12 years old. So I was very lucky that way. But my parents really loved me. And when I went back and looked at all the old pictures and the old movies of growing up, I was always happy and laughing. I was always with my father and my mother and my grandparents had, you know, my whole extended family were wonderful and I had a very fortunate of having a very intelligent, tuned in matriarchy. You know, not only my mother, but my aunts and my grandparents and they were very, very insightful. And you know, years later, this is my mother never told me that she's 101 now, she's still alive.
[00:35:55] But once I come out with this and my book and everything, she started to tell me things, she goes, she said, “I was very worried about you. Oh, when you're going into puberty, you’re very strange.” And she alerted the teachers, “Don't leave this kid alone.” And I was always involved in like football, all the sports, like four sports a year, all the band and student government, I was always busy. And in fact, when the psychiatrist later, you know, more recently analyzed me, they said that, you know, I bore easily and so I’m the type of person that needs to be constantly busy and I am so, you know, my mother saw this and alerted my teachers and so they always kept me busy. It was a very light touch, but very insightful. And she treated my other siblings differently because they were wired differently.
[00:36:39] So I was very lucky and I was treated. It was just great. And I was very close to my parents and extended family and we still have a big family and which means our house is always full. So this was the key back then, which is like I've got the biological determinants and I had always told my colleagues that genetics were everything and I was wrong and I had to eat crow on this. And scientists hate to be like really wrong, but I was wrong. But it's not that it's not genetics, it is genetics, but with a twist. And that is, it's the intersection of susceptibility genetics, which is really good to find out if you got them with your early upbringing. And it's, so if you're wired, I'm very susceptible like to psychopathy or another personality disorder, but you're treated well, all you do is you have those traits.
[00:37:29] So you became very aggressive the year, you know, you’re very chatty, very glib and all of this, eventhough I’m not being very glib at the moment. But you have all these traits that look like leadership by people have always wanted to be – to be the president of faculty and all this stuff. Just a natural trait. You don't even try. So that's if you're treated really well. And I had a wonderful growing up and I, so at this point it all made sense. It's like there's a real biological hardcore biological reason to treat your kids well and to treat your neighborhoods well and did treat groups of people well. And that really changed me. So we changed our research direction with my colleagues to go for this to now look at this epigenetics of violence and bullying and personality disorders around the world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:15] Right. Because according to this new theory then the nurture factor, cleaning up environments, cleaning up neighborhoods with dangerous thugs hanging out and these environments where people get abused, bullied, et cetera. It's worth it because it helps ensure that the epigenetics and surroundings produce the kind of people, including psychopaths and socio, you know, that are valuable to society instead of becoming a detriment to society. Because if we take these same groups of populations, and when we put them in these nice school districts where everybody's kind of nice, you can have these undercovers psychopaths where everything is more or less functioning normally. But if we put them in a place where they have to be careful and they're getting their stuff stolen and people are picking on them and they're getting harassed by gangs and stuff, we can end up with bad people being manufactured, like a factory.
James Fallon: [00:39:05] That's right. And that was the idea. I gave a Ted talk on this about 12 years ago, and a producer Simon Mira, and who was a show runner, one of the two Criminal Minds. He called me up after my Ted talk was published. He says, “I know what you're talking about.” And that night he had written the episode number 100, it’s called Outfox. He completely got the point. He goes, “In your Ted talk, you're not talking about yourself. You're talking about transgenerational violence and why, you know, the real biological hardcore reason to treat people well.” And so after that we did studies on nomads in the desert, in the Sahara and all sorts of views of this, looks at this. You know, everybody knows war and violence is bad, but nobody will do anything. But if you tell people that if their own people, if their own leaders keep their tribe or their group always under a state of siege, there can be triggering more and more psychopaths.
[00:40:03] And it's going to create a warrior culture. A warrior culture is not a cute thing. And what warrior cultures do is they killed themselves. And so the message, you know, the hidden message was always here is the reason for these belligerent groups. And it could be any country, any group, not to do this because you're going to destroy yourselves. People listen to that. They don't care if you say a war is bad for other people. But if you say this sort of maintaining kids up completely under fear or under, you know, harassment or bullying or a military stuff, that this will trigger those that are susceptible. So there'll be this basic percentage of these kids that will have personality disorders and it'll kill your own people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:44] This has a detrimental effect on society. So if we're looking at a place like Guatemala -- sorry, Guatemala, I'm picking on you. -- This is a dangerous place with a lot of favelas and things like that. Are you saying that there's going to be a preference for the warrior who can protect people and then that's going to get bred into the society at large?
James Fallon: [00:41:04] Yeah, that's the idea because with transgenerational epigenetics, you have things passing from grandparents to the kids. And this was first seen in a Dutch famine study where the grandchildren were absolutely affected with obesity and smoking. And they weren't even involved in the original insult, which is the famine. While, so grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, those grandchildren, they have the same kind of nightmares that the Holocaust victims had. Even other than that, they were never subjected to it. So that the idea that these violence could, you know, skip two generations that can become concentrated epigenetically in generations. You know, you might look at this, the following way. Let's say if you look at Putin and Russia. Well, Russia is about 350 years from imperial rule by the czars. Putin is simply another one of the czars police chiefs, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:00] Okay. In that, he's a dictator, you mean.
James Fallon: [00:42:03] Yeah, he's kind of a thug, but he's a dictator, but he keeps getting re-elected. Now some of the election is rigged, right? But there's still a fair amount of popularity.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:14] Putin doesn't need fraud to get elected. He just does it for sport because it's part of the tradition, right?
James Fallon: [00:42:19] He doesn't need it. Now, why would people like that? So, and I've talked with this with different writers and different scientists in Russia, that Russia has been transformed and in Russia has been transformed because of 300 years of czars rules and kind of thuggery. And so they become, to expect it now, if in those people that are genetically wired to be potentially have personality disorders, like psychopathy will then they become triggered. They become full psychopaths so that the actual number of clinical psychopaths goes up. But also with all the abuse, the number of sociopaths go up.
[00:42:56] But the people who are not genetically susceptible, what do they get? PTSD. So here you've got a whole country of either PTSD or you know, sociopathy or psychopathy. Of course that's not true, but you have a higher percentage there perhaps. So the idea, and I've been working with the Russians on this, and just gave a talk on Hooten last week in New York on this possibility. And it's worth looking into at any rate, that's the idea. But there's also, you know, sociologically, if I was a young 16 year old girl living in the Gaza or downtown LA or you know, in chronic trouble spot where we tend to concentrate these abuses and traumas, well, if I was growing up, I'd probably want to like hook up with and pal around with and even have sex with I guess, or marry a tough guy.
[00:43:47] Well then now you have meeting patterns that tend to concentrate this to the social problems or behavioral patterns or behavior. So I think this is one potential way to understand hotspots in the world. The Gaza, Somalia, some of Serbia, but also Russia, parts of LA, Chicago, it's a way of understanding this and, you know, we can look at our own country, my interpretation of, for example, the plight of blacks who were born in America who are descended from slaves, they had hundreds of years of abuse and that might be epigenetically wired them for higher levels of violence, right? Not particularly their own doing, but because of transgenerational epigenetics. That is, the society actually created this higher level for aggression and so that's one way of understanding it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:43] What about our own soldiers? I mean, should we be testing our own soldiers so that they don't see combat until their brain is developed or that some soldiers should maybe never see combat because this could affect them in a totally different way than it affects somebody else due to the way that they're wired.
James Fallon: [00:45:00] Yeah, I've been an advisor to the Pentagon for some years. And that is basically what I had mentioned to Michaud, brain development throughout life and especially these different epochs where people are really vulnerable. And also when the brain is really finally developed, the highest cognitive development just cognitive occurs when you're in your sixties, but before that the brain is fully mature when you're about 35 and it really becomes pretty hardwired with all the neurotransmitters and all the myelination patterns. That is what hardwires the brain when you're about 25. And so I've used this developmental sort of reason to argue at the Pentagon and the people who make these decisions, not to have anybody in the military, in the infantry who's under 25 because you're just absolutely asking for trouble because you know, people who are 18, 19, 20, 21 -- they're very susceptible.
[00:46:00] And therefore, I mean this is a good reason to not have younger than 25. And it would vary from person to person. Some people are very mature at 21, some not until they're 30. Some of us not at all. And so I think it's a good argument for limiting who participates in warfare because you want to make sure that they are not wired for PTSD. They don't have the behavioral patterns or the sort of characteristics of a potential psychopath or are a psychopath. And so the idea is to minimize this, you have to have an effective military, but you don't want a pathological military one that is crippled by trauma and PTSD. So yeah, that's one of the ideas to using the biological psychiatry and developmental patterns to make arguments, brought arguments about society, the military, et cetera.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:50 ] Since you found out that you had a psychopathic brain as an adult, do you look back at your history and go, “Oh yeah”, I mean, like your wife said, “Oh, I'm not surprised.” Do you look back and think, “Oh yeah, this thing I did was a little strange.” Or, and there's one story in your book, particularly about a car crash that you'd witnessed. And I thought, “Okay, yeah, that's not normal.” Right? That's not how I would react.
James Fallon: [00:47:13] Right. And so I can see really terrible things. And not be affected at all, right? And just kind of walk away from it. And when this happened, you know, when I found this out with my biology around 2006 and then had the genetics though, which showed the same thing at a lot of the genetic alleles that are consistent with psychopathic traits. I was invited to give a talk by a group in Norway to give a talk with the ex-Prime Minister of Norway. And he had been Prime Minister for eight years and he had in his first term found he had bipolar disorder and he came out and he got treated and he told everybody this. I thought this was very heroic because for a European to admit to a psychiatric disorder for a Norwegian or Scandinavians, unheard of, but he did it. He was treated and had eight successful years. So he gave a talk and then I gave a talk about the underlying biological psychiatry and I had to use somebody’s data so ethically, I can only use my own. So I put up my own PET scans, genetics, all my behaviors and all my funky behaviors throughout my life.
[00:48:22] And used that as how we determine the genetics behind different disorders, you know, like bipolar or whatever. And at the end of the talk, the Chair of Psychiatry of the University of Oslo stood up. He goes, “Well, thank you for that talk. I got to tell you one thing. First of all, you're bipolar, but you don't know it. He says, you're just hypomanic but you don't get depressed. I said, that's cool. And the second thing is we'd like to talk to you afterwards.” So after my talk, we went to the president of the University of Oslo's house and these psychiatrists and psychologists came over and we all started, you know, having some cocktails and talked for a few hours. At the end of that, they said, “You're probably also a borderline psychopath.” And these people didn't know me. They saw my biology, right? And they saw these traits and
[00:49:08] so I had to take that seriously. It's the first time I took it seriously. So when I came back, flew back, I started asking people one at a time, my wife and my kids, my brothers, my sister, everybody, my mother, “What do you really think of me? What do you really think of me? And don't worry. I really need to know the truth.” And they all have the same story that I had these traits that were consistent with the very cold, distant. And like two of the women in my family, they said, “You're not there. You're not emotionally there”, which really lined up with this lack of emotional empathy. They say, “Well, you're a good father. You’re a good brother, you're a good friend, but you're really emotionally not there. You're like not connected but you're fun and you're interesting and all that.”
[00:49:50] So I said, “You got to be kidding.” Well, after sometime I finally got some psychiatric analysis because I never took it seriously until that point. And they went through all behaviors over the years of what I had done and how much, you know, I'm kind of a thrill seeker. And so, and I've put people in danger, in real danger.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:11] Give us an example of what you mean by putting other people in real danger.
James Fallon: [00:50:13] Well, let's see. I've lived in Africa a couple of times and the first time we went to East Africa, I lived in Nairobi and I used to drive out into the wild because I love to be out in the middle with all these wild animals and everything. I'm a biologist and it was thrilling. And so when my family showed up, we would go on all these trips.
[00:50:34] I'd be surrounded by really all these lions and everything. I had my own car, but it was kind of, I'd get in the middle of like a Wildebeest stampede and they'd be all over the place and you know, it'd be wild, a lot of fun. But we went up to Mount Kenya and they had trout fishing there. So I took my son up and I found a spot and on the spot entering the woods to where the trout stream was, it said, “Danger: Lions”. And I said, “Well, this'll be fun.” I said, “let's go in”, [00:51:02][inaudible] and we went in fishing and I knew there was lions there. He did. And it was thrilling, right? And I went through the probabilities, what are the chances that we're going to get attacked? And I was like, maybe 5% I said, and he was with it and he's a thrill-seeker too
[00:51:17] so that was fine. But you know, when I got a boat out here, I'd take the kids out, water skiing, and there'd be sharks around, we'd waterski among the sharks. Again, what is the probability that, you know, a blue shark is going to bother you? Not that high. So this is very typical. I've done many of those things all my life and you know, and I did dig running with the bulls. I did put regular guys do and I was a downhill skier, competitive skier, and I liked high-speed and all that stuff. So this, to me it was just fun. But people had reminded me of all the danger that they'd put them in. And I think maybe the worst for my one of my brothers is I took them up to the Keaton cave. This is where the old matriarch elephants bring the other elephants into the caves in Northwest Kenya to dig into the caves to get salts and minerals.
[00:52:08] And so I took him there, but I knew it. I said, “This could be thrilling.” But I knew nobody was there because they had a scare. There were these Ugandan rebels that were on that mountain. So I knew people were going, but the bigger reason is when they first had the Marburg virus, which is, it's like Ebola. It's almost identical to Ebola. And I heard about this, because I worked at the University of Nairobi Hospital. They told me the story. I said, “I got to go up there. If this guy had come stumbling into the hospital, bled out, and I retract. This is where he stayed.” So he was up in those mountains and I found that where he spent the night around the campfire, went into the caves and everything. And I didn't tell my brother this, because I know I didn't think he might not go for it even though he is, you know, he's like an extreme skier and everything, so he might go for it.
[00:53:01] And so I took them through the air. I told them not to touch anything on the ground.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:06] So you take your brother into an Ebola cave, but his gear and an Ebola hunter, not the same thing.
James Fallon: [00:53:11] Not exactly the same as it turns out, this was a slight miscalculation. So we went in there and it was thrilling. We saw all these animals because nobody had visited there in six months. And I knew it partially because of this Ebola-like virus were first popped up and also because of these Ugandan rebels. And so we had the whole mountain to ourselves. And that night is when the Gulf war started. Not the Gulf war, but you know, this was like 1991. And so the Kuwaiti attack, Desert Storm had started. So these are exciting times now, some years, two years later, two or three years later, a movie came out with Dustin Hoffman and a book and it was The Hot Zone and it was about that cave and about the start of Marburg virus.
[00:54:00] And he gave me a call…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:02] Your brother did?
James Fallon: [00:54:03] My brother give me call, he said, “You son of a bitch and knew it all along.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I could have died in there of this terrible disease.” I said, “You didn't, wasn’t it thrilling?” He goes, “It was fantastic” I said, “The other things I brought you through, was it thrilling?” He goes, “Yes”. He says, “but I can't really can't trust you.” This is a very common thing over the years. And for me it's always been just fun to other people and to the psychiatrist, putting people in that level of danger without them really knowing the whole story. It's kind of psychopathic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:34] And you have all these sort of non, I guess I would just say, inappropriate reactions like the car crash. You witness this car crash and you go down to the victim and then you're suddenly just not affected by this hours or minutes later. Tell us about that.
James Fallon: [00:54:49 ] I was in Canada and this is when I was younger and I was dragging, it was winter time and a car passed me going high-speed and in another one and he went off the road and then hit a tree and so in there I knew the guy was choking out and I went in over on the side of the car, was kind of on the hill and gave him mouth to mouth for, we'll probably 25 minutes and then the police and the ambulance showed up and they pulled me off him because he'd been dead. Kind of throwing up my face for half an hour until he died. The police wanted me to file a murder report and I was very mad about it. And I just walked out and that was the end of it.
[00:55:29] It never really, it was the end of it. If somebody was with, he’d freaked out completely. But those types of things are probably too matter-of-fact for me. And they've always been that. And even when I've been really hurt myself, I put my arm through a window and opened up my entire arm. I just looked at it like it was a piece of anatomy, you know, it was like interesting. And so those kinds of things are very common in my life but apparently not everybody responds that way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:58] Right. Yeah. One example that stood out as well was you had gone to a funeral and there was this little girl who had passed away and I think you’d said something like, “Oh, that's a nice dress.”
James Fallon: [00:56:09] Yeah. She was in a white dress laid out on a slab. This was in Africa. You know, and I comment about the dress, it was a curious scene, you know what I mean? This perfectly white dress and family around in our morgue. And what stood out was the improbability of the dress in that situation rather than any grief, you know, it was very interesting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:31] Have you ever tried to maybe manually fix or hide your behavior somehow? I know when we watch shows like, which are really mainstream, you hear his internal dialogue and he's like, “I have to pretend like I want to go out for drinks later, once a month or so. I'll go out with everyone and kill enough times so that I'm seen being normal.” You know, stuff like that. He's obviously extreme, but do you ever think like, “Oh, okay. I have to say something like, ‘Oh, I'm still upset that this person has passed away.’ That's what everyone else is doing and it's going to make me look normal.”
James Fallon: [00:57:01] I don't really do that. You know? And people are always kind of put off by it but I can get emotional about some things. It's not like in a completely non-emotional, it's just doesn't seem to be appropriate to a lot of people what is emotional or not, but when I see like somebody on the street who I don't know, I said well this person needs help and I am involved in a lot of charities, people who have been jailed and work with a lot of people like that and we're at soup kitchens and everything because I know it's the right thing to do. It's just aesthetically the beautiful thing to do. It's just a way to live. Not like a big hero, just it's the right thing to do and so I'll be involved in those because it's the correct thing to do but there's no emotional engagement with it per se. It's mostly an aesthetic, I guess basic sort of one should do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:50] How do we spot a psychopath? Are there details that about how they operate that we can sort of internalize here and say, “Okay, this is happening. This is how I can spot it. This is how you might defend against one or this is what I might do if I'm in a business or a personal relationship with one.” Do you have any advice for this? Spotting and identifying and defending against this type of thing?
James Fallon: [00:58:13] Yeah, it's a very difficult thing because, and I think probably most of your listeners who are, you know, high-end people, professionals, et cetera. The kinds of psychopaths that they would run into, you know, there's this idea that, you know, CEOs of large corporations are psychopaths. That's not where they are. They're in the CEO numbers, which are, you know, higher than the average population may be 5% it's due to the startup companies and CEOs of startup companies is where you find it. Like The Wolf of Wall Street, that was a very good portrayal, not violent, but manipulative and you know all that and they're very, very alluring and very attractive and very charismatic. And so the people that you would tend to see in normal life, they may be working five, 10 people at a time. And so they don't play their hand. They will show you the pro-social side and they know how you're thinking.
[00:59:02] They're very good analyzing what you’re thinking and your emotional state and they play to that. And so oftentimes somebody will be played for three months before the negative part of it shows up, right? Some of them are setting people up for almost for even years so there are only different people that they're setting up. These are high-functioning psychopaths, a lot of them borderline and they're there. They're setting them up, you know, for future use. Then they grown them. And so it's very hard to tell them because they're reading what you want to hear and if they think that you're hip to having their ass-kissed, “Oh, you're so wonderful. You're so wonderful”, you know all that stuff. They won't do that. They will try to appeal exactly to the way you respond so they don't over compliment you or under compliment you.
[00:59:53] If they think that you respond to being called, “Oh you're just a jerk” and that you like that, that's what they'll do. And so there's no absolute behavior you'll see for many times a long time because they're grooming you with what you want. They're looking for your weaknesses and what your needs are and that's what they'll play to. And so it's very, very difficult to ferret out a real high-functioning psychopath that you would run into. You know, a lot of them that had been, you know, brain damaged and beaten up and everything. A lot of them are in the prison system by the time they're 21 or 23 years old. So you don't even see those guys that really, you know, the kind of the violent out of control ones that you usually think of. Because most of the ones are that are dangerous to you, to the average person aren't like that.
[01:00:38] In fact, they're not going to kill you or rape you, but they're going to manipulate you for something. They try to control you. It's part of the game. So it's manipulating you to play a game and they're always on the make and the make will vary according to how they think you are and the smart ones can get away with this for a long, long time. So the answer is for an intact smart psychopath, they’re extremely hard to read, but at some point they'll make their move and they'll say something that makes you nervous, you know, you will sense a nervousness about all of a sudden they become familiar in a weird way or be talking in a new strange way to test whether you're, you know, kinky or not, or vulnerable for investment or something. They start doing that. They start, but it may be months and even years down the line before you see it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:27] Interesting. Okay. So this is like a chess game. They're waiting, they're waiting, they're waiting. They are looking for vulnerability. And then do they try to isolate us? Because I've seen this happen with friends of mine where I think this person is, there's one person around a group of my friends is maybe got some of these traits. And then that person will notice that maybe I don't really, I'm not falling for their crap, you know, or if another friend of ours isn't falling for their crap and they'll try to sort of chip away and isolate the person that they're trying to victimize from the rest of the friends group because they know that there's two or three people in the friends group that are like, you know, I don't like this person and we're sort of countering their influence and they will gradually chip away at this.
James Fallon: [01:02:08] Yes, they'll do that with a lot of the person's friends and it could take many, many months to do that, but they won't start out that way. They'll start out as a nice group person, very cooperative, fun, interesting, glib, and then slowly you'll start seeing that where somebody is getting isolated or isolating something, telling stories about it, that's a warning sign. They're trying to isolate the target and they have to chip away like exactly like you're saying at the people that that person is friendly with or trust or will interfere and so this isolation always occurs. They want to ultimately, they're trying to get you one on one in a closet as it were.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:42] So what do we do to defend against this once we do spot it, say we go, “Oh my gosh, this is my business partner, this is my significant other, this is my friend or roommate.” What do we do? Is the only option, just get away from this person, cut him out of your life? Is that really the safest strategy? What do we do here?
James Fallon: [01:03:00] Well, if you can get away from their influenced by, you know, you may want to move laterally in an organization or in a social group, you want to get away from them. You do not want to, they're trying to sucker punch you too. And so they're going to try to get some engagement at some point to humiliate you or whatever and they cannot be fixed. You're not going to talk them out of it. So if you can walk away, you walk away immediately and don't say anything like you don’t care and just walk away. Or if you can, you know, ask to be moved to another part of the organization to avoid them because you know, if he gets some of them mad enough, they will then try to take you down.
[01:03:34] They could physically harm you or really go after you so you don't want to engage. Once you feel this, you really move away, you back away, you know like you would from an attacking a bear, like a grisly. You got to watch it, you got to just slowly back away and then just kind of walk away. You don't want to run, you don't want to attack. And so because these are predators.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:58] I think it's a little scary of course, but I do wonder, why hasn't evolution bred these people out? If it's bad for society and only favors individuals and they're still around after hundreds of thousands of years, what is the evolutionary pressure keeping psychopaths in the game?
James Fallon: [01:04:13] Well, about 50,000 years ago, we went through this bottling up. We were down to about 6,000 pairs of humans and we were almost extinct at that point. I think it's very important to have enough people in any population that will, first of all, would love to go kill somebody. Also, they are people, especially the thrill seekers love to go over the mountain and have sex with anybody they find on the other side. And so psychopathy, which is so stable in all of human society, they can come in handy and they take risks that others don't. And they take smart risks. Because of that, they can lead the way on under great stress in a population. And they're more than happy to fight unusually. But they will tend to have sex with as many people as possible. And so the way to look at this, there are no good or evil genes. All you have to look at it in the context of whether you're talking about a person or family or you know, a clan. Those genes and behaviors that are good for individuals and humans and clan tend not
[01:05:17] to be good for the species and vice versa. So psychopaths are good for the species because they will climb the mountain and have sex with as many other people as possible and dominate them. They will also try to conquer, you know, they tend to want to conquer, said they'll move across different environments and populate different environments. So this is, you know, good for the species and just terrible for individual humans and families. So it's the context of whether what's good or bad depends on how you look at that in that way.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:48] Right. It's almost like a disease that wipes out a ton of people and you go, “Oh my God, that was so terrible.” But then you find, “Well, you know, it wiped out a lot of the young and the elderly and made this population able to move away from this catastrophic set of climate changing events or things like that.” So it's really just almost like another force of nature. That's neither good nor bad. It's just if you zoom out far enough, neither good nor bad, but it's really bad if you're sitting there in your little peaceful village and Genghis Khans, people come and burn the whole thing down. Kill everyone, take all the women away, you know, rape them and have a bunch of kids drop them off somewhere else in central Asia and they create different populations. That's really bad if you live there, it's great if we're separated from that by thousands and thousands of years. And you know, we ended up in a nice Western or developed country where as a result of this kind of thing, this was great pressure over time.
James Fallon: [01:06:39] Jordan, this is good, you're starting to think less like a human and more like a neuroscientist. You know, this is what you said is quite true. So people have got to have that perspective. I think when they look, that's why the other part of my good and evil, it depends on the view you take and how far, if you're looking from way back, and you look at whole populations of the species, it's a very different interpretation.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:04] So there must be a cost of violent psychopaths. I mean, we incarcerate these people, they create all kinds of damage. I mean, there's terrorism involved in some of these people's past or future, unfortunately. But is there a way that they're good for us? Even now? I mean, or is it, are we still in, “Well, they're bad, but if we zoom out far enough, there's still good.” I like Genghis Khan.
James Fallon: [01:07:26] Well, if you look at their own, there are a fair number of people. And usually when you're young, you say, “Look, can we get rid of war?” I mean, so if you asked every millennial, “What if we could breed out all the warrior genes and we'd all be passive”, they'd say, “yes”. Right? But the problem is, is that humans, the species is mutating faster than just about any other species. Very modifiable, not only by epi genes, but also by these little critters called transposons, which have shaped big jumps in our evolution. The transposons are little pieces of DNA that we've picked up like viruses, like HIV and other viruses for millions of years. Well, these give us a lot of power that, for example, in the immune system, they help us like battle any disease and help us be omnivores that are able to live in an environment on the globe.
[01:08:14] But they’re also responsible for a lot of cancers. So yeah, there's always suddenly give out and suddenly something you get. Now, if you look at the psychopaths presently, if you bred out all the warrior genes, all the psychopathy, well within a generation, there's going to be a bunch of people who have them back and it makes it easier for them to take over the world. So you're not going to get rid of this ever. It's like you're not going to get rid of war. You're not going to get rid of violence or any of this stuff or psychopathy because it will keep coming back because that's what our genome and our transposons do to us. It's almost, it ensures our existence as a species. It's like the idea, you know, we'd all like to be pure pacifist, but it doesn't work because it's so easy for one person to take over,
[01:09:01] who's not like that, who doesn't have those sensibilities that I think a lot of this, the idea in its mixed in with the concept of old humanism, French humanism and French humanism, which is our basic liberal ideas. I'm talking about liberal classic liberalism, not that political liberalism necessarily, but in that way, part of that is that we're all molded by our environment. So society is what determines who you are and also religion and everything. And really genetics mean nothing. Well, we know now in the past 10 years, this isn't true, in another way of saying this is that Plato was correct and Aristotle was wrong. And a whole lineage of this idea of tabula rasa that were born of clean slate. We're not. We're born wired for all sorts of things already. And we know genetics and now epigenetics really changes the whole interpretation of that.
[01:09:56] But it also, because of the Nazis and eugenics, the whole idea of genetics really took a hit and from 1945 onwards and it dominated all the social sciences and all the ideas in universities about, you know, every person is good inside only environment. The only society makes them not good. And so if we have a perfect society, wouldn't have any of these obnoxious, belligerent, evil people or groups. And this turns out not to be true. So it's partially a reaction to the Nazis that we had 60 years of this French humanism. And you know, it's basically every child is good and it turns out, no, I'm sorry it's not true and everybody could be rehabilitated. So you never, you can always let people out. You rehabilitate them in jail, murderers and rapists in jail and we can rehabilitate them. It's just an old small L liberal. I consider myself a small L liberal, but an old liberal idea that's been mutated and in that you say, well we can fix them and let them out and invariably you let these murderers and rapists out and the next week, they're murdering, raping again. So it's a mistake. It's a misunderstanding of biological psychiatry much what makes us tick. And so the idea that we can just breed this out and make it illegal or something like that is so naive. It's just ridiculous.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:21] James, thank you so much for coming on the show today. This is extremely interesting and you're very open about your own brain, which is not something everybody would probably do. I think a lot of people in your situation might go, “I am just going to not tell anyone about this.”
James Fallon: [01:11:36] Well Jordan, I got lucky. I got lucky, I had a very fortunate upbringing, very happy childhood, which kind of negated that, you know, it's genetics. It's not a death sentence. It's not fate and if you're treated well, and I found that if I really concentrate every day, it's like Oprah thinking about keeping your weight off. If you think about the one thing, like for addicts, every day you can kind of beat it, but only about 5% of people can do this it seems. Everybody snaps back to their epigenetic self. But doesn't mean it can't be done. And we're always looking for ways to change that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:13] James, thanks so much for your time.
James Fallon: [01:12:16] Thanks Jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:17] Jason, I don't know, man. If I saw a brain scan and it turned out that my brain had a defect like that, and I say defect because it's not exactly an adaptation that serves most of us, I would freak out, man. I don't know. I don't know if I don’t know if I would dedicate my life to the study thereof. I guess he was already a brain scientist, so it worked out.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:12:36] Yeah. Talk about, you know, walking into work one day and having something interesting to study. It's not like he figured out that he was destined to be a farmer. You know? It's like, “Oh, this is right in my wheelhouse. This is great.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:49] Yeah. Yeah. He said actually elsewhere in the book, and I think post show a little bit, we talked about this, just that there was a lot of people that were like, “Oh, interesting.” But a lot of people said, “Never talk to me again.” You know, he lost a bunch of friends and things like that that just didn't want to be around him.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:13:04] Oh, that's too bad.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:05] Yeah. Yeah. It is too bad, you know? But I understand it because he also discusses in the book that he's really great at manipulating people. Even his friends. He doesn't use violence. He says being nice and charming and charismatic is easier and that's affected his marriage and his close relationships negatively. For the most part.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:13:27] I have to say in the pre-show talk that I had with himm when we were going through tech issues. He was definitely one of the more likable guests we've ever had. It didn't phase him that some of the tech wasn't working and he worked with me to get through it and he was absolutely awesome to work with. So I can see how he would be created manipulating people because by the time we started the show I was like, “I like this guy already. He didn't yell at me because Zencaster didn't work. Awesome.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:50] Yeah. I mean he self-describes as a pro-social psychopath because he's good at behaving in ways that are socially acceptable. And so that makes it even more interesting because of course you know, what we're looking at as a result of this is, and thankfully we've covered the difference between, you know, a murderous violent psychopath, sociopath and just regular run of the mill psychopaths is every day psychopath. Yeah. Your everyday psychopath. It's really that there's a certain set of behaviors that they just know, okay this is going to work for me. But it is really interesting to see because my first question was, why does this still exist in society? You know, this would have been bred out a long time ago. You're going to have these small tribes of people. There's going to be a psychopath and people are going to say, “No, this person's bad for the group”, but if they're pro-social, they can really sort of just climb to the top and then suddenly everyone's like, “Well, you know, it's for the greater good.”
[01:14:47] Even when really it's for their own good in the ways that their needs, their wants, their desires align with that of the tribe and they find themselves at the top. I don't know. It's a really interesting set of behavior and it's really less black and white than we previously thought, or at least that I previously thought.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:15:03] No, it was a fantastic interview with the-psychopath-next-door.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:06] Yeah, or inside. Go get your brain scanned. That's the big takeaway from this one. You might be one. Great big thank you to Dr. James Fallon, the book title is The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. If you enjoyed this one, don't forget to thank Dr. James Fallon on Twitter. That'll be linked up in the show notes for this episode, which can be found at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. Tweet at me your number one takeaway here from James Fallon.
[01:15:32] I'm @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. And don't forget, if you want to learn how to apply everything you learned here today from James Fallon, make sure you go grab the worksheets in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. This episode was produced and edited by Jason DeFillippo. Show notes are by Robert Fogarty. Booking, back-office, last minute miracles by Jen Harbinger. And I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. Please throw us an iTunes review if you use Apple podcast. You know, I actually, Jason, I emailed our contact at Apple and I said, “Oh yeah, you know, we've got a lot of iTunes reviews” and he goes, “You mean Apple podcast?” And he sent me all the, like new branding and new logos. We don't call it iTunes anymore.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:16:13] Pedantic much. Whew!
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:14] Oops. Yeah, I guess they were. It's a sensitive subject. So throw us an Apple podcast review, but really make sure you have a unique nickname. Here's the problem with writing reviews now. You can write a great review and then it just sort of like doesn't go anywhere. You have to write your name and then like a set of numbers or a set of random words after it because otherwise it won't post and it won't tell you why. It just sits there. So go ahead and do that for us if you would. It's really helpful. You know, we had it like 11,000 reviews back when we did AOC. Now we're at 1100 so we're getting up there, but we need your help. It does help because it does show guests like the ones you like to hear from that we are worthwhile for them to appear on. So the instructions for the reviews are at JordanHarbinger.com/subscribe and of course, share the show with those you love and even those you don't. We've got a lot more like this in the pipeline. We're excited to bring it to you, but we need to get those numbers up if we're going to make sure that we can get the kind of guests that you, dear listener, deserve to hear from. So in the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.