Exploring the Mind of a Killer

I picked this topic to learn about simply because it appealed to me more than the others. While I was intrigued by a few topics, “Exploring the Mind of a Killer” would I thought inform me of the view behind the brain of murderers. In the short video TED discusses that when it comes to serial killers the most important things to look at are the genetics, brain damage and the environment. Interestingly enough time is also a major factor to look into. I found this statement cool because I previously thought that there were only similar problems within the genes of a serial killer and their early childhood experiences. The video goes on to say that one thing serial killers have in common is that there is damage within the orbital cortex and the anterior temporal cortex however, between the serial killers, the extensive brain damaged acquired vary. The video then expresses deeper in tell of exactly what all serial killers have in common which brings of the discussion of MAOA, also known as the Major Violence Gene. Apparently it has been scientifically proven that this gene is within a suffice amount of people in the population. Just another fact I found interesting because I, myself, might have the same gene meaning that I could’ve grown up to be a serial killers just like the ones discussed today. Moreover it is said that more boys receive this gene from the X-chromosome of their mother. With this gene, they state that your brain is exposed to too much serotonin, making the brain insensitive to a  neurotransmitter that is suppose to calm and relax an individual. The theory of expressing this gene however, is that an individual must have gone through an extremely traumatic experience prior to their puberty stage. The videos finally closes with a few personal comments from the speaker himself. After watching this video it occurred to me that I have in fact, noticed that more serial killers that have been brought to my view have been males. Furthermore I became very skeptical by the ending of the video because it seemed as the the speaker tried to inform the audience that the information today was only a snip bit of truth behind serial killers and that there is a lot more of information not discovered yet and  to be revealed eventually. Thus,  my strange research idea. The study would be a correlation between the heart rate of serial killers and no serial killers. I would use the a series of various questions within this study and involve a lie detector. My sample would be a random selection of participants currently in prison however the number of men and women would be the same for this experiment.


This topic sticks out to me because I can relate due one of my classes that I am currently taking this semester deal with happiness and how an individual can lead a happy life. This Ted Talk in particular basis around getting our way as human beings and learning how to be happy without always getting exactly what we want. Dan Gilbet starts the talk by issuing a pop quiz to the audience to see what they would think could lead them to having a happier life, the options being winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Luckily for me I knew the right answer to the question because we have studied this specifically in my philosophy course. The study shows that after a year of winning the lottery or losing your legs you will be equally happy with your life, excluding external factors that can cause sorrow or grief. Which may came as a shock to the world but me being a 19 year old expert on the subject, haha sarcasm is funny, knew exactly why. As humans we tend to think about the “now” rather than the future. Obviously if you had a choice of a couple million dollars or losing you legs i dont think I’d see anyone I know in a wheelchair. But the science behind it shows that we think we would be happier with the money because we think about how it would effect us immediately. You wouldnt stress about bills, you could send your children to good schools, or ever make sure everything is taken care of when you pass away. After a year of both being paralyzed or winning the lottery the reason you would be equally as happy is because it is what you are now used to and comfortable with.

Wait Stress Cant Kill Me??

While watching the Ted Talk, made me think about my views on stress itself. Growing up, I have always been taught that a little stress is good because it helps you stay on task. But as I aged I started to notice that stress is a real thing, not just “my mom didnt pack a juice box in my lunch so I will never finish my drawing” kind of stress, but more of the bill side of stress or the realization of failure which can be devastating. Kelly McGonigal goes on to discuss a study that found that the percentage of deaths is only directed with stress if you think stress is harmful, at this point in the video I was sure I was about to die because stress is the worst, but then she goes on to point out that if you see stress as more of a good thing or something that isnt good or bad it becomes less and less as a death threat.

Then she goes on to talk about an experiment in which her audience is participating in a stress induced test to give them the feel of social anxiety, something i struggle with on a daily basis because, lets be real, for the most part people suck.But as she dives deeper in the claims of stress being helpful i realize her point. A runners heart beats faster while running just as my heart pounds during one of Ians exams, the runners breathing becomes more rapid as the oxygen flows to the brain just as mine does whenever my brother tells me that he spent another 200 dollars on a stupid sports jersey, dont ask why that stresses me out or we will be here for a long time. So what if i treated my stress just like i treat my running. Well running is a bad example because lets face it i havent ran in years, but just exercising in general. I wouldnt stop working out because my heart started beating faster because that would be ridiculous. So i shouldnt freak out when my heart pounds when im given another paper that i fear i will fail, rather i should channel that feeling to excel in my work.

The whole study changed my views on stress in a way that makes me wish i wouldve seen it earlier. I tend to get stressed and collapse rather than try and thrive with the pressure. It sure does make me pumped to be stressed again try try out these methods in action.

Exploring the Minds of Killers

What drew you to the talk you did?


The striking title of the video is what drew me to it. “Exploring the mind of a killer just seemed very intriguing and mysterious. I’ve always loved crime shows as well and understanding the mind of a killer is usually how the crime is solved.


Briefly summarize the talk


Jim Fallon, a neuroscientist who has researched various topics over his long career, on day decides to study the mind of killers, more specifically what is different in the brains of psychopathic killers. Examples of psychopathic killers are people such as Ted Bundy, Jeffery Dahmer, and Charles Manson. Three things determine what damage the minds of killers: genes, biological/epigenetic damage, and the environment. All of these have to occur within a specific time frame to form a psychopathic killer. After studying the brain scan of psychopathic killers he discovered that nearly all of them had damage to their orbital cortex. He also discovered that they all had the gene MAOA, an X-linked gene, which is why males were more likely to be psychopathic killers. This gene causes the brain of fetuses to be soaked in serotonin making them insensitive to the neurotransmitter, which promotes calmness, later in life. The psychopaths he studied had these risk factors but a strong traumatic incident had to occur to trigger the psychopathic tendencies within these killers


What did you find most interesting about the talk?


I found that the presenter having a family history of psychopathic killers to be very interesting. This made his research very close to home and I believe allowed him to research this topic as passionately as he did. It was also cool how he took brain scans, EEGs, and analyzed the genetics of his family members to determine how at risk they were for becoming psychopathic killers.


How trustworthy did you find the presenter and the information she or he presented?


I found the presenter to be very trustworthy. Jim Fallon has studied and researched various subjects of neuroscience for about 35 years and is a professor at the University of California.


My Own Research Idea


During the presentation Jim Fallon talked about a=how nearly all the killers were exposed to severe trauma at a young age and this played a huge role in their development into psychopathic killers. I would research which form of trauma had the highest risk for psychopathic killers.

the Implicit Association Test

I chose to do the IATs for my blog post because i felt it would be interesting to see how accurate a test like that could be and what i found was less than satisfying. On both tests that i tried I found my self choosing more answers that my right hand had to choose due to myself being right handed, though my results showed that I preferred Obama to George W. Bush, which is true, i couldn’t see the accuracy in the test due to my right hand being quicker on the draw than my left. I understand the test tries to limit factors such as hand dominance by switching sides, however i don’t see the effectiveness in that strategy because regardless of who or what was on each side, the right hand reigned supreme

Brain to Brain Communication, Some Professor X Stuff

In the “Miguel Nicolelis: Brain to brain communication has arrived” TED Talk, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis discusses his latest project, a method and device that can record and transmit brain waves to any electronic device. His real-world application, a brain controlled exoskeleton that will enable paraplegics and quadriplegics to walk again. As for why I chose this TED Talk, well, it’s actually pretty simple. This is some Professor Xavier stuff, being able to link minds and communicate, from half way around the world in fact, is amazing!

At the beginning of the talk, Dr. Nicolelis talks about the opening kick for the FIFA 2014 World Cup, performed by a paraplegic wearing an exoskeleton that is operated by simply thinking about what the operator wants to do. He describes the new technology as “Brain-Machine Interface”. As Dr. Nicolelis describes it, a special noninvasive helmet is worn by the subject that can read the electrical signals in the brain (I can only assume it works similarly to an EEG) and then rewrites the signals into command codes that a machine or computer can understand. This code is then interpreted as a specific movement which the exo performs, like walking or kicking a soccer ball. He then discusses various trials where the technology was tested between living things rather than a man and a machine, like seeing if two rats can learn while only teaching one, or if three monkeys can work together to control a dot on a grid and guide it into a circle on specific areas of the grid. Dr. Nicolelis says there are no limits to this technology’s applications, and I agree, and, hope that we can all see it one day.

The part that interested me the most was the exo and the almost miraculous effects it can have on people’s lives. Not only would it allow someone to walk again, but it would allow them to feel again. Dr. Nicolelis says there are special sensors on the exo that send feedback to a vest that essentially fools the brain into “feeling” a sensation, like feeling the ball as you kick it. This has the potential to completely change lives!

I find Dr. Nicolelis to be very trustworthy, despite his blasphemous claims that Brazilians achieved controlled flight first (‘Murica). After a little research (Google), I found that he is a professor at Duke University, and is even a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI!

As for my own research, well Dr. Nicolelis already covered what I would have done. I suppose I would take it a little further with human trials (since it is noninvasive) and test communication through thought with multiple subjects. My tests would include something like communicating what key to press on a number pad. Flash a number in a screen for one person, and see if the person in the other end of the link knows to press the same key. Another test I would like to try is to have a number of objects on a table and have the first subject pick one, and then in another room, have the same objects in different arrangement (or possibly even different objects, except for the one the first subject picked) on a table and see if the second subject will know to pick the same object. If these tests conclude that the thoughts can be shared, then I would want to move to tests that require more complex thoughts to be shared, like relaying answers to questions or maybe even holding a simple conversation, like favorite colors.

If this technology becomes more developed and produced to the point where it is available to those who need it the most, like paraplegics and quadriplegics, then the world as we know it could become a little better as everyone would be able to enjoy some of the simplest things in life, like a nice walk in the park, or kicking a soccer ball again, something I now relies I take for granted.

(sorry it’s so long, this is just really cool)

The brain may be able to repair itself- with help

I’ve always thought the brain was so interesting and have been floored by the information and research that has been done on it finding out just how complex it is. I’ve also always wondered how they could possibly perform the research and test theories on actual human brains and this video seemed to call out to some of those concepts. Jocelyne Bloch is a neuroscientist who has dealt with patients with brain trauma and started research with another scientist on the possibility for the brain to repair itself. She started research when she had to remove pieces of people’s brains to reduce swelling and decided to try to grow cells from them. The cells they grew was similar to stem cells except they didn’t grow quickly and would die after a few weeks. These cells came from cells found in fetuses for brain development and were still present in adult brains. It’s not clear why these cells are still present in adult brains but there are theories that link it to brain repair. Once they found these new cells from the stem cell culture, they started experimenting on the effects on monkeys to see if they could contribute to brain repair. They first taught monkeys to get food pellets from slots, they then put a legion in the motor cortex that connected to their hand so they couldn’t move their hands anymore. After about a month of recovery time, the monkeys had to perform the task of getting food pellets, the monkeys with a month of recovery time without any help, they were quite slow at getting their pellets, but the monkeys who had ben injected with the cells were much faster. She then goes on to explain all of the obstacles to get this done with human testing to see if humans have the same reaction. If the cells are successful at brain recovery, diseases such as Parkinson’s could be lessened. I think it’s fascinating they the brain gives us the tools to be able to help it heal itself.  Bloch seems to have a lot of experience with brains since she was the chief resident working in the ER, she also worked on the research and experiments done to find the cells and the effects the cells had on the monkeys so she was involved in the research and knows a lot about how the brain works. I think it would be beneficial to see how far the repair could go from studying monkeys, simply monkey’s arms getting frozen seems less vital to the body, if there could be a way to test how far the repair could go, that would be very interesting.

Marcia’s Theory of Identity Development

James Marcia developed his theory of identity development by expanding Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. While Erikson’s theory covered development throughout a lifetime, Marcia’s theory focused mainly on adolescent development. Adolescents in Erikson’s theory go through a phase of identity crisis, but Marcia believes adolescents do not go through a phase of identity resolution nor identity crisis. Instead the two main things that lead to identity development are crisis, which is anything that causes a person to reevaluate their choices and values, and commitment to new values. Marcia theorizes that each crisis leads to new commitments and therefore identity development. His theory was structured into 4 different aspects of identity development. These aspects are not considered stages, such as the stages in Erikson’s theory, because the theory is not sequential. The statuses are:

Identity Diffusion: This is the status where commitment has not been made and no steps have been taken to make a commitment. At this status the adolescent is still does not have the ability to make choices.

Identity Foreclosure: At this status adolescents have committed to some values and maybe even goals for the future, but they have not yet had an identity crisis. Conforming to the values and expectations of others is common and not many things have been explored yet.

Identity Moratorium: At this status adolescents are experiencing a crisis. They are also heavily exploring various aspects of their life and may be ready to make choices of their own but not yet commit to a sense of identity.

Identity Achievement: At this status the adolescent has made a commitment to a sense of identity after going through a crisis.

The main idea of Marcia’s theory is that the choices and experiences an individual has experienced influence their identity.

I believe Marcia’s theory is more accurate than Erikson’s because it is non-sequential and each status does not apply to a certain point in life like Erikson’s stages. While Marcia focused mainly on adolescents, it can be applied later on as well most likely for things such as midlife crises. It may be difficult though to establish which status a person is at and even after achieving an identity another crisis may occur and new commitments may be made. So the main question I am asking is do we ever fully have a sense of our identity?

Out of the four identity statuses, currently I feel like I’m at stage of identity foreclosure. While I have committed to a few values and future goals, they are heavily influenced by what my parents want and to a lesser extent what my peers around me may want. I still have much to explore before I commit to a certain role and adhere to a specific set of values.

Feeling Crazy?

Jim Fallon: Exploring the mind of a Killer

I am interested in how someone becomes a killer. Mostly because I am a fan of crime shows such as criminal minds, but also because people with this brain malfunction live among us. I want to know if it is genetic, environmental, or something else, maybe a multitude of factors that result in a psychopathic mind. Jim Fallon used scientific studying of the brain to analyze the differences between a normal mind and a psychopathic one and figure out what factors cause the mind to be corrupt. He evaluated that there is a gene that can be activated when a traumatic environmental event occurs to a person who has not yet hit puberty. The gene is sex-linked on the X chromosome and males are more susceptible of inheriting the gene. This is because males are hemizygous (containing an X and a Y chromosome) and they only inherit one X chromosome, from their mother. Therefore, there is not a second X chromosome to counteract the initial gene, like there is in girls. When a person expresses the gene, they release an immense amount of serotonin, more than a normal amount, which causes the brain to become insensitive to the chemical. Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that helps keep a person calm. When there is a problem involving serotonin, anxiety is increased which can lead to depression. Another key factor of develping the mind of a psychopath, is precise timing. During the development of a child before puberty, a trigger that turns on the gene, is a traumatic act of violence that they see in real life. As Fallen put it:

Having the gene + seeing a lot of violence = disaster

Before watching the video, I would have assumed that having the kind of brain damage to be a psychopath would have solely depended on environmental factors. I didn’t think that nurture had as big of an affect as nature, but after seeing the video I can tell that the environment is the trigger and the gene has the biggest cause of brain damage. I think that Jim Fallon was fairly trustworthy because he showed evidence of his research by showing the PET scans and comparing the varying types. He had a good argument for what he proposed and his presentation was clear and went in an order that was easy to follow.

Being a biology major who is interested in the genetics field, I am interested in investigating further about how the gene is inherited and triggered, especially how it affects girls. I would also investigate how much serotonin is too much and what happens if there is not enough and how those two differ. And finally, if the different types of psychopaths are caused by nurture or nature.




TED Talk: How we read each other’s minds

I chose to watch Rebecca Saxe’s talk because the title just caught my attention. I assumed her lecture would be about how we as people can assume how other people are feeling just by looking at their body language. My assumption wasn’t completely wrong, but it wasn’t quite right either.
Saxe’s lecture begins with the question of how are we able to think of other peoples’ thoughts. She introduces a module of the brain named the right tempero-parietal junction, which is what allows us to think about what others are thinking about. She explains that just like most other parts of the brain, this one is no different when it comes to how long it takes to develop. Saxe presents us videos of children ranging from ages three to seven doing a false belief test, showing that it takes time for children to develop the ability of children to recognize that other people can have false beliefs. She moves on to explain that adults are not equal in this ability either. She points this out by giving an experiment similar to the one she gave the kids. And showing that people disagree about how much a person should be blamed for doing something wrong on purpose or by accident. Saxe even found out that you can change the way this part of your brain functions by using a magnetic pulse to confuse the neurons in charge of this type of thinking. When applied to someone making a moral judgment, people decided that accidents are not as blameless and something done with harmful intentions is more blameless. In a short Q&A after her talk, Rebecca speaks about how there is no danger with this technology yet and hopefully this research will impact education further down the road.
The most interesting part of this talk was that we have a specific part of the brain just for thinking about other peoples’ thoughts. I think it shows just how much of social creatures we are and how important it is for us to understand what’s happening inside someone else’s mind.
After reading Saxe’s profile, I think she is trustworthy. She’s a Cognitive Neuroscientist and made these discoveries while she was in graduate school and continues to do research at MIT.
If I were to do research on this information, I would like to set up a cross-cultural analysis in order to see how this part of the brain functions in cultures all over the world and how they would place blame on accidental and intentional harm. I would basically come up with tests similar to the ones shown in the video, except I would work very hard to make them relevant to the society in which I am testing. I would then compare my results with the one’s that Saxe has produced.