September 28, 2022

A natural born killer

What makes one?

Natural born killer (r) with Mom (l)This sounds like a good plot for a spooky
Twilight Zone episode – or an argument for scepticism about neuroscience
determinism. A neuroscientist studying psychopaths and sociopaths finds that they
tend to have low activity in the orbital cortex of the brain. It can’t do its
job of inhibiting the amygdala, the part of the brain which regulates that
id-type behaviors like rage, violence, eating, sex, and drinking. Like his own
brain scan…

Then he learns that his family line
contains at least eight murderers, including the famous Lizzie Borden (who took
an axe and gave her father 40 whacks).

Then he examines family members for the
MAO-A gene (monoamine oxidase A), nicknamed the “warrior gene” because it
regulates the calming chemical serotonin in the brain. The neuroscientist
discovers that he is the only one in his family without the low-aggression
variant of the gene.

The light goes on — deep organ music — “I’m a born

However, it’s not science fiction, but the real
life story of Dr Jim Fallon, of the University of California-Irvine. Why isn’t
he a killer, then? Dr Fallon speculates that brain patterns and genetic makeup
are not enough: a childhood of abuse or violence is needed to top up the toxic

This intriguing story attracted many
scathing comments on the NPR website. One contended that the genes and the scans
hadn’t lied at all: “it’s intriguing to consider that in this case the gene for
‘sociopathy,’ led to tenure.” ~ NPR,
June 29

Michael Cook
free will