There are a lot of psychopaths amongst us… and some of them are gifts to society

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Credit: Pierrick van Troost/Unsplash

As a happily married family man and a successful neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine, [James] Fallon didn’t exactly fit the malevolent stereotype of a psychopath, but there it was on a brain scan: drastically diminished activity in specific areas of the frontal and temporal lobes linked to empathy, morality and self-control. So he asked his wife, kids, grandchildren, and colleagues for their thoughts on his apparent diagnosis.

“Big mistake,” he later recalled.

“Every one of them said you don’t connect to people, you’re kind of cold, and you’re kind of superficially glib,” he recounted at a Moth story session at the 2011 World Science Festival.

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As further confirmation to his psychopathic inclinations, Fallon found that he really didn’t care what his friends or family thought about him. Even though they recognized that Fallon generally lacked empathy and interpersonal warmth, they still enjoyed having him in their lives, and he felt the same.

“I’m what’s called a pro-social… psychopath,” Fallon said.

“There’s a very constant number of these in all sorts of societies,” he noted, perhaps because they are desirable. “Do we really want our surgeons to be empathetic when they’re doing the surgery or do we want somebody cold and calculated? Do we want our Green Berets to really be empathetic… or do we want them to protect us?”

Artists and creative types also seem predisposed to pro-social psychopathy.

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