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Mary Ann Glynn: Book Review of ‘The Psychopath Inside’

Mary Ann Glynn ad newThe Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain – by James Fallon

Review by Mary Ann Glynn

I first came across James Fallon’s research on a show about psychopathy and the brain on the Science Channel. I was fascinated by what he found out by mistake about his own brain, which has added an interesting and significant spin to the discussion of nature and nurture in psychopathy.

For thirty-five years James Fallon has been a neuroscientist educator and researcher, and has engineered major breakthroughs in stem cell research. His research lab led to the creation of three biotech companies, one of which won a national award from peers. His main areas of study were in Parkinson’s Disease, chronic stroke, later branching into PTSD of veterans, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, addictions, male-female brain differences, emotional memory, ADHD, and consciousness, all of which were a substantially rich prerequisite to what he veered into more recently.

James Fallon grew up in a warm connected extended family, and was an exceptional student and athlete throughout his educative years. At the age of 14 he was named “Catholic Boy of the Year”, partly as a result of having developed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder at the time which took the form of extreme religious devotion. In adolescence he went through a period of depression for no apparent reason, but claims this did not ever happen again. He has been married for forty-four years and has three children, all he maintains satisfying relationships with, as well a large circle of friends and colleagues.

Discovery of a psychopathic brain

dark side of brain fallon sm

A few years back Fallon was asked by a psychiatrist expert testimony in murder trials, both psychopathic and impulsive, to see if he could find any brain patterns in about fifty brain scans. He began to extensively study the psychopathic brain. At that time he was also studying his family’s brains as part of an Alzheimer’s study, including his own. When examining those scans, he thought one of the psychopath scans had gotten mixed up with them, only to discover it was his own brain! On closer examination he found not only did he have all the aspects of a psychopath’s brain, but he found he had all the genes associated with psychopathy (both of which are extensive).

When he told his mother about these surprising findings, she confessed they had never told him the truth about his family’s nefarious histories. It turns out on his father’s side there is a long line of criminals and murderers of whom Lizzie Borden is one. On his mother’s side there were Sicilians engaged in criminal activities for generations.

The brain of a natural born killer

Now fascinated to find out why he, with the brain of a natural born killer, wasn’t murdering, or even stealing, womanizing, abusing anyone, or otherwise participating in antisocial behaviors, Fallon began a quest for answers. He researched all the case studies he could find in his work and in the literature. He found that for all psychopaths, including dictators who had psychiatric reports from their youth, all had been abused and often had lost one or more biological parents. There may be those without abuse, he said, but he couldn’t find one. More often, he believes, there is a gene-environment-gene interaction. For example, a biologically at-risk child interacts with a non-nurturing and/or abusive environment, which unlocks the psychopathic genes and impacts the developing brain.

Fallon wonders who he would have become had his childhood not been so charmed and he had not been blessed with the abilities to succeed in the world. He dubbed himself a “prosocial psychopath”, and he decided to survey how his friends and family experienced him. Aside from getting some good feedback, he got some that clearly described psychopathic traits – “charming”, “manipulative”, “intellectual bully”, “a need for constant stimulation”, “unable to love deeply”, “emotionally shallow”, “unempathetic” to name a few. But in psychology, something is not deemed a disorder unless it’s to the degree that it significantly impacts a person’s functioning in some area of their lives. Luckily, this has not been the case for Fallon.

Further research

In truth, the picture in his case is not so cut and dry. He has admittedly been a drinking partier all his life, and though a “fun and benevolent drunk”, it could be responsible for a good deal of stimulation-seeking or neglectful behaviors. Also, he was diagnosed by one psychiatrist as bipolar – manic, which could explain impulsive, aggressive, stimulation seeking behaviors, difficulties with relationships (all of which overlap with psychopathy), as well as the early depression and OCD, subsequent years of panic attacks, and the fact that he has never slept much. Aside from the buffer of a loving family, the compounding factors of an apparent somewhat sensitive nervous system lending itself to addiction, in a weird way, may also have saved him from being completely cold and callous.

Book details personal journey

If you are interested in the most cutting edge research on the brain and genetics associated with psychopathy, Fallon’s book is chock full of it in great detail yet in a manner that lay people can understand as much as is possible. Just as interesting, his personal journey is a thought-provoking read in its bearing on the study of psychopathy. Because of his unique perspective of expert scientific knowledge combined with personal experience and a deeply speculative intellect, Fallon draws some riveting hypotheses on whether he can be considered a psychopath, whether psychopaths can change (he analyzes his personal attempts), and why psychopaths may exist at all.

The Psychopath Inside is available on Amazon.com

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12 Comments on "Mary Ann Glynn: Book Review of ‘The Psychopath Inside’"

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  1. Thank you Mary Ann for you insight on this book.



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  2. NotWhatHeSaidofMe says:

    Good article Mary Ann. I have read/watched this man’s interviews, and the responses from his family members/associates. His attitudes/perspectives were so similar to the problem people in my life and validates my conclusion about them.

    My ex is more of a sneaky type of person, image is everything to him and he knows from watching his brother (who is overt in his demeanor) that being a spider enticing the fly works better for his agenda. My ex also does not drink/do drugs because he loses inhibition and control over his image, revealing intentions to his “fly” who then escapes.

    James Fallon is considered a “non-violent” psychopath. My ex would be called a “non-violent psychopath” which I think is a HUGE misnomer. I believe ALL psychopaths have the character to murder, but CHOSE not to. It’s not a matter of overcoming distaste for killing which requires HUGE motivation in normal people, i.e., motivation killing in defense during a rape or killing someone who was harming your child. Rather, these psychopath type CHOSE to overcome desire TO KILL. My ex said he chose not to kill because he didn’t want to go to prison (several cousins have spent time and he saw the upclose lifestyle firsthand). While my ex was non-violent as a matter of practice, he did become violent in his late 40’s, and thought nothing of it. He thought it was a situation that required killing in order to gain the control he wanted, another time he thought the killing was funny, funny to watch the victim’s behavior, that it’s didn’t even know it was as good as dead, it was still acting as if life was an option. He thought that was funny. I was glad I no longer lived with him when that part of him was revealed.

    James Fallon reveals little bits of himself that he seems to not be aware are disturbing. He uses euphemisms to soften harsh truths. For example, he decribes trying to “finesse” his behavior… people like me call that “manipulation”.

    It’s clear to me that James Fallon is like every other creature of this type, that as long as everything is going his way and people are not on his radar, then people can live relatively safely. But they must retain vigilance. I’m thinking he’d make their life hell if there was a conflict.

    I think this book’s greatest value is how a psychopath who views himself as a wonderful guy, reveals those nuanced red flags that help me to validate my intuition that I had about my ex all those years ago. I didn’t ever consider the term psychopath because it’s been MISused by media so much that victims stay lost trying to figure out what it wrong with themselves and why the other person is able to screw with their head so easily.



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  3. Jan7 says:

    James Fallon is a self proclaimed psychopath…he is the biggest con artist of all times trying to con people into believing there are “good” psychopaths including his college naive students and other college professors…remember this there are no “good” psychopaths!!

    Remember from Donna’s very informative article on Ray Rice = 50% of domestic abusers are sociopaths and 25% of domestic abusers have traits of sociopathy.

    If you research James Fallon’s past interviews you will see he fits the mold of a abusive psychopath = partying ways, serial cheating, manipulating, lying, bullying etc (these are HIS words in interviews).

    Fallon believes that he is a “good family man”, to that I say let someone who is extremely knowledgeable with psychopathic abuse interview his wife for the truth as you can NEVER get the truth from a psychopath.

    there is no way I would ever buy this man’s book or support his book in any fashion he is no different then Sam Valkin…both are conning victims out of money!

    Sorry to be so blunt but this is how I feel about ALL psychopaths! Be careful what you believe to be true just because it is written in a book, it’s clear any psychopath can write a book these days to spread lies and manipulate others which will just put you back into a very dangerous situation with a psychopath.



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  4. NotWhatHeSaidofMe says:

    Jan7
    second paragraph. Huh?
    If part 1 is true, then part 2 can’t be.



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  5. Jan7 says:

    Hi Not, not sure why it cant be true.

    This is from Donna’s article on Ray Rice, NFL, domestic abuse:

    “Domestic violence and sociopaths

    Many, many Lovefraud readers have experienced violence from their intimate partners.

    According to Dr. Liane Leedom, studies of male perpetrators of domestic violence reveal that 50% of them are sociopaths, and another 25% have sociopathic traits but not the full disorder.

    That means 25% of the men who assault their partners are not sociopaths and do not have sociopathic traits.”



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  6. Escapefor1 says:

    I don’t believe that psychopaths have to be abused to become violent and abusive, though maybe they do to murder. But like some other commenters, I even question that.

    My ex, whom I believe to be a psychopath as well as other things, especially NPD; grew up in a very pleasant family with many advantages. If anything, he might have been a bit spoiled rather than abused or neglected. He was horrible to me and abusive and neglectful to me and our children.

    He stopped short of violence or crime, and so would not be called antisocial as defined by behavior. Though he did test antisocial. He did get physical enough to technically commit battery, but this legal threshold is low and he never hit us.

    However, there were hints of coming right up to the boundary of crime and murder, but not crossing it. Scarily, during our divorce, when I was forced to continue living with him, he seemed obsessed with prison shows, almost as if he was weighing whether he wanted to risk prison. He also went back to the gun range during that time.



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  7. Delores says:

    He raped his room mates girlfriend in college and lost all of his friends. Since then he has been careful not to get caught. This does not make him a pro-social or “good” psychopath. I did not know what a psychopath was when I felt sorry for him and married him. He seemed so remorseful and like a good empath, I thought he was sincere and that I could fix him. LOL

    Few people believe he is a psychopath. Some say he is just a chameleon. Others say he is just a jerk and some think he is an upstanding citizen, church member and attorney



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  8. Delores says:

    (continued)
    Only his targets know and we are not believed by many. He told me I was his wife and I had to have sex with me whenever he wanted it and the sex was like rape. He made it obvious on our wedding night that I was his possession and that was all. Nothing I tried could change that. When I realized he could not love anyone, I got out. Not loving your wife and family is abuse enough. Blaming them for the inability, lying and gas-lighting is just the gravy for them.

    There are no pro-social psychopaths. And the ones who pretend to be are more creepy than a violent one. The hide in the shadows and lurk pretending to be human when they are not.



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