This is a fascinating story, and I commend it to your attention. The link takes you to the transcript and the option to listen to the story. It describes a university neuroscientist who looks into his own family history and, with the cooperation of family members, brainscans and DNA of a number of others descended from the same line:
About four years ago, Fallon made a startling discovery. It happened during a conversation with his then 88-year-old mother, Jenny, at a family barbecue.
"I said, 'Jim, why don't you find out about your father's relatives?' " Jenny Fallon recalls. "I think there were some cuckoos back there."
"There's a whole lineage of very violent people — killers," he says.
One of his direct great-grandfathers, Thomas Cornell, was hanged in 1667 for murdering his mother. That line of Cornells produced seven other alleged murderers, including Lizzy Borden. "Cousin Lizzy," as Fallon wryly calls her, was accused (and controversially acquitted) of killing her father and stepmother with an ax in Fall River, Mass., in 1882.
A little spooked by his ancestry, Fallon set out to see whether anyone in his family possesses the brain of a serial killer. Because he has studied the brains of dozens of psychopaths, he knew precisely what to look for. To demonstrate, he opened his laptop and called up an image of a brain on his computer screen.The story is fascinating. I'm sharing it here because of the final lines. First, a bit more of the story:
After learning his violent family history, he examined the images and compared them with the brains of psychopaths. His wife's scan was normal. His mother: normal. His siblings: normal. His children: normal.
"And I took a look at my own PET scan and saw something disturbing that I did not talk about," he says.
What he didn't want to reveal was that his orbital cortex looks inactive.
"If you look at the PET scan, I look just like one of those killers."Skipping ahead:
The Three Ingredients
And that brings us to the next part of Jim Fallon's family experiment. Along with brain scans, Fallon also tested each family member's DNA for genes that are associated with violence. He looked at 12 genes related to aggression and violence and zeroed in on the MAO-A gene (monoamine oxidase A). This gene, which has been the target of considerable research, is also known as the "warrior gene" because it regulates serotonin in the brain. Serotonin affects your mood — think Prozac — and many scientists believe that if you have a certain version of the warrior gene, your brain won't respond to the calming effects of serotonin.
Fallon calls up another slide on his computer. It has a list of family members' names, and next to them, the results of the genotyping. Everyone in his family has the low-aggression variant of the MAO-A gene, except for one person.
Fallon's being tongue-in-cheek — sort of. He doesn't believe his fate or anyone else's is entirely determined by genes. They merely tip you in one direction or another.
And yet: "When I put the two together, it was frankly a little disturbing," Fallon says with a laugh. "You start to look at yourself and you say, 'I may be a sociopath.' I don't think I am, but this looks exactly like [the brains of] the psychopaths, the sociopaths, that I've seen before."
I asked his wife, Diane, what she thought of the result.
"I wasn't too concerned," she says, laughing. "I mean, I've known him since I was 12."
Diane probably does not need to worry, according to scientists who study this area. They believe that brain patterns and genetic makeup are not enough to make anyone a psychopath. You need a third ingredient: abuse or violence in one's childhood.That's why I'm sharing this one here. 35% to 40% of America's children live in families where the household income is insufficient to meet the most modestly defined needs of a family of that size and configuration in that location. (See "Self-Sufficiency Standard" for more information.) How many more live in families which have below-average income, little financial security, little in savings, shaky housing situations, unemployment or underemployment?
Our nation's concentration of income and concentration of wealth mean that about 80% of us are below average. Every time you see a report about average wealth, or average income, please recognize that we live in Lake Wobegon in Reverse. Most of our children live in families that are below average, particularly those who were born to young parents, to less educated parents, to single parents, or who made unfortunate choices of who their parents would be, or what pressures their parents' marriages would come under, particularly financial pressures.
We have a poverty machine. The rich keep getting richer, and the rest -- including the families of a very large proportion of our children -- are struggling to keep their heads above water.
How do we fix this poverty machine? How do we transform it into a rising prosperity-for-all machine? For that, you'll have to do some reading. Start with the works of Henry George --
- a speech or two at www.wealthandwant.com -- say, The Crime of Poverty, or Thou Shalt Not Steal;
- a reading of Progress and Poverty at progressandpoverty.org;
- your choice of chapters from Social Problems at wealthandwant.
How do we reduce the chances that conditions in a child's life will cause them to become people who victimize others as adults? By assuring that all get what they need as children, and are protected from victimization by adults and by other children.
Just a thought.