The mind of a Serial Killer

I chose to go the route of studying how a serial killer tick.  Ever since I was younger I have always been fascinated by wondering why criminals do the things they do and my history in law enforcement made me interested in this topic.  James Fallon talks about how specific moments a key development time cause a serial killer to commit the acts that they do.  At first I was somewhat skeptical about this idea because there are plenty of people that have experienced severe trauma at a young age that are not serial killers.  However, upon looking up every one of the specific psycopathic killers mentioned during Dr. Fallon’s talk, I discovered there was the common theme of severe trauma at at a young age.  The way I would go about the research involved due to the danger involved is I would use case studies to figure this out and I would choose as many known serial killers as I could get information on and find a common theme that ties them together.

Exploring the Mind of a Serial Killer


I chose to talk about this specific topic because I have always been interested in what exists in the minds of serial killers. Their motive/drive has always been an interest of mine. I enjoy watching documentaries based on serial killers in America. My favorite serial killers to research are Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer, because they were no fans of random selection. The people they chose as victims had much in common. At the end of each documentary, the researcher always pose the question of, “What drove this kind of behavior?”  As the audience we too, would like to know what is driving this kind of volatile behavior, while hoping the behavior can be avoided or reversed.

How do you end up with a psychopathic killer?  According to Jim Fallon, there are three components that tie into the development of a psychopathic killer: genes, brain damage, and environment. Epigenetic effect is the interaction of genes, brain damage, and the environment. A psychopathic killer behavior is likely based on the timing of these three components.

What I found to be most interesting is our brain’s ability to become insensitive to Serotonin. Serotonin is supposed to make us kind and relaxed but while in utero, the MAOA gene (major violence gene) makes us aggressive if there is too much Serotonin. The brain becomes insensitive to Serotonin, so kind and relaxed behavior is not effective. Also, the MAOA gene is on the X chromosome, so it is only inherited from the mother. As a result, men are more likely to be psychopathic killers and aggressive by nature.

While viewing the talk, the researcher seemed to be fairly trustworthy with his findings. Though anecdotes were apart of his talk, the researcher also included scientific evidence such as brain scans and the correlation graph of the MAOA gene effects. Though the researcher used his family as his participants, it did not skew his findings because he used random selection while picking from a family that has history that supports his research.

Research Question: Does nature drive psychopathic killing behavior more than nurture? Are humans who inherit certain genes more likely to be psychopathic killers versus those who are from abusive/aggressive homes.

In order to explore this research question I would have to conduct a case study. A case study seems to be the most ethical and information giving due to an extensive amount of research and time that will be tied into it. An experiment would be considered too unethical and a survey would not give me the full truth that I am seeking.

The Neuroscience of a Killer and How One is Born

Have you ever wondered how the brains of psychopathic killers operate? Today, I watched a TED Talk about how people become psychopathic killers. I chose to watch this TED Talk because its title reminded of a Forensic Science class that I took back in high school. Most of the discussions in that course were related to murders and serial killers, so I thought the video might interest me like my old class did. The speaker in the TED Talk was a man by the name of Jimmy Fallon. No, I am not referring to the celebrity entertainer Jimmy Fallon, of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, but a neuroscientist who has taught neuroscience at the University of California.

Jimmy Fallon had studied the brains of several psychopathic killers and came up with a number of pieces of data. Apparently there are several factors that play into the creation of a psychopathic killer, and they are genetics, brain damage, interaction with the environment and when all these factors, occurred in that person’s lifetime. Jimmy Fallon said that to end up with a psychopath in a killer depends upon when exactly the damage occurs. Apparently it is a very precisely timed thing, and depending when the damage occurred defines what kind of psychopath will develop.

Another thing that Jimmy Fallon discussed was that a key component is the development of psychopathic killers are the High Risk Gene, the MAOA gene. This is a variant of the gene that is the general population, but it is sex linked and is on the X-chromosome. This means that people can only receive this gene from their mothers, and it is probably the reason why mostly boys are psychopathic killers are very aggressive. Girls can get one X-chromosome from the mother and one X-chromosome from the father; however, the high risk gene from the mother gets diluted from the gene from the father. This means that girls have less of a chance or getting the MAOA gene. Another interesting variable that he explained was that boys can only receive the X-chromosome from their mothers, this has to do with too much serotonin during that person’s development as baby still inside their mother’s womb. Serotonin is a substance that is supposed to make people feel calm and relaxed; however, if it is in the uterus then the baby is bathed in it. This causes the babies brains become sensitive to serotonin, and so it doesn’t work on the later on. And in order to express the high risk gene in a violent way, then that person would be involved in or witnessing a lot of violence before puberty. As Jimmy Fallon said, a combination of the MAOA gene and witnessing a lot of violence, is a recipe for disaster.

The next thing  Jimmy Fallon went on to discuss was that if this combination goes on for several generations then that tends to concentrate these genes. So now both the girls and boys receive the MAOA gene.  He also talked a little about his family and his family tree. Apparently, a few of his ancestors were serial killers, including Ezra Cornell and Lizzie Borden.

The factor I found the most interesting of this TED Talk was that Jimmy Fallon actually said that he had ancestors who were murders. Saying something like that, and to the entire world, is something that requires a lot of courage; however, while I do find him trustworthy I do not necessarily trust the information he presented. The reason why I do not trust the information the Jimmy Fallon said about how psychopaths are created sounds a bit fictional. What he said was like saying that there is this element when combined with a lot of stress before puberty creates a psychopath. And while this information might actually be true I don’t really find logical without more evidence and research. The reason why I do trust Jimmy Fallon is because while even though he could have said he was related to killers to just to make a point in his story, would mean he had presented false evidence and I do not believe saying you are related to a murder is something to be taken lightly.

One way to erase my doubts of if Jimmy Fallon’s information is actually logical is to create my own research study that involves using the information Jimmy Fallon presented to see if his claims on how a psychopath is created is accurate. First, I would try to find some couples of different social classes and areas of life who have had and or are about to have a baby. Next I would track those individuals’ process through life, but after making sure if they have the high risk gene and were bathed in serotonin while in the mother’s womb. After that occurs I would look out for when and if they have received brain damage and if they have or will be exposed to high levels of violence. Then I would watch out for them and see if they actually commit murder like a psychopath would. Later, I would conclude my results and make my conclusion. This study is interesting, and it would be nice if society could be able to prevent psychopaths from being developed and killing people.

Exploring The Mind Of A Killer

The reason why I was so immediately drawn to this talk, was the explanation in broad detail that talked about three main components that can generate a psychopathic killer’s brain.  Another reason why I was interested in this TED talk is because of a curious case of one of my family members that also a suffered from a violent path that was caused by brain damage.  In summary, Fallon spoke about how these psychotic genes can skip and develop in a few generations, and that a lot of the public can possess one of the genes that could potentially be considered to be high risk.  In utero, the baby’s brain is so used to being “bathed” in serotonin that later on in life that there would be no feeling of calmness or relaxation that someone with a neurotypical brain would feel.  I found the presenter to be trustworthy, as he said he’s been a neurologist who has been studying such things for the past 35 years, which means that persistence and dedication to his field make him someone who is a reputable figure.  If I could, I’d conduct a research method based on case studies where I would go and interview a particular psychopathic killer and ask him questions about his childhood experiences, family relationships, sports involved in, jobs and work prior to his sentencing and other factors that play into the development of such an individual.

Is mind control possible?

Rebecca Saxe: How we read each other’s minds

I chose to discuss Rebecca’s’ discussion of how human’s read each other’s mind because I think it would be intriguing, and peculiar to have the ability to read others thoughts. Even though her talk isn’t exactly about mind reading, I got the impression from the initial link, and I went with it. I  was not disappointed. Rebecca is professor of cognitive neuroscience in the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. I believe that gives her enough credit on this matter. Rebecca discusses how an area of the brain RTPJ (right temporoparietel junction) Is used for only the thought process of understanding other’s thoughts. Dr. Saxe explains how the unique portion of the human brain develops and adjusts to better understand others throughout childhood and on into adult life. To demonstrate the differences in development of the RTPJ Saxe has a 3,5, and 7 year old determine the intentions of Ivan the pirate. Ivan the pirate has a cheese sandwich. Ivan places his sandwich on his treasure chest to go get a drink. Once Ivan has gone the wind knocks his sandwich onto the ground. Joshua another pirate places his cheese sandwich onto the treasure chest to go get a drink as well. Before Ivan takes his cheese sandwich Ivan takes, Saxe asks the individual children what sandwich Ivan will take and why? The 5 year old predicts Ivan will take the sandwich on the treasure chest because Ivan thinks it belongs to him. The 3 year old predicts Ivan will take the sandwich on the ground because it belongs to him. The 3 year old explains that Ivan is being mean for taking the wrong sandwich and did so to avoid eating the dirty sandwich. The 5 year old also agrees that Ivan is being naughty for taking the wrong sandwich even though he could understand that Ivan didn’t know his had been knocked off the chest by the wind. It is not until the 7 year old is questioned on Ivan’s intentions that Dr. Saxe receives a somewhat mature response. The 7 year old claims that Ivan is not to blame the wind is the culprit of the matter.

Dr. Saxe goes on to another scenario of RTPJ and how it is used in adult cognitive processing. In an example of magnetic manipulation other wise known as TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation). In this example of Gabby and the coffee pot. Gabby is at a table waiting for a friend. In the first portrayal there is a pot labeled deadly poison yet in reality it is just sugar. Gabby puts some of the fake deadly poison in her companions drink yet her friend is fine. In the second example there is a coffee pot labeled sugar but, it is actually deadly poison, Gabby places what she is considering sugar into her friends drink and they die. As one may assume the adults placed more negative moral connotations on Gabby when her friend lived opposed to when she died from accidental poisoning. Now in order to display how these thoughts can be manipulated through TMS Dr. Saxe ran through the same example of Gabby and the coffee pot while the TMS is focused on the RTPJ the responses she received about Gabby’s intentions are intriguing. Adults placed less blame on Gabby when her friend survived the intentional murder, and more blame on Gabby when her friend died from the accidental poisoning. Dr. Saxe concludes her research illustrates people come equipped to develop thoughts on the behavior of others.

I don’t know if I am the only one who gets a slight chill from this experiment, but what I see is the beginning of mind control technology. I find the TMS instrument to be the most interesting part of this talk. Although, it frightens me to think further manipulation of this instrument eventually may lead to the ability to control an individuals thoughts. For the sake of science. I would implement my own study to further develop this technology. I would have to conduct my research on open minded individuals. I would give out a survey to find persons that are of such tendency to accept new beliefs and direction. Second I would follow up on the questionnaire and achieve the consent of three gracious individuals. Once under my power I would continuously condition the minds of these individuals with my will through the power of the TMS, pin pointing the amygdala in order to further control the individuals emotional responses. The hippocampus, in order to manipulate memories to my favor and distance their past lives from them. The hypothalamus, in order to control appetite, sleep, eating habits, the subject would do nothing without my say so thanks to the magnetic power. The thalamus, in order to highjack their choice of movement and the RTPJ in order to numb their perception that they are still human as they once were. Although once I had achieved the ability to surrender the will of the subjects to my command, I would probably be considered a criminal. I would auction off my new found methods to the highest bidding military force. After all is said and done, hypothetically I would keep my initial three test subject as my own personal assistants. I will never have to do mind numbing tasks like laundry, cook, or cut the lawn ever again.


A Killer’s Thought: TED Talk

In this week’s class discussion, I watched the following TED Talk to analyze the speaker’s presentation:

I was drawn to this particular TED talk because the title “Exploring the Mind of a Killer” drew me into knowing more about the topic. Especially so considering that we had discussed how there are vital cognitional developmental stages for adolescence. I had predicted that the speaker may talk about the different types of parenting styles (authoritative, neglectful, permissive, and authoritarian) and how they impact their brain into creating a pathway towards their child becoming a psychopathic killer. I also considered that the speaker may bring out some issue of the brain, such as misfiring of synapses between neurotransmitters or other neurological miscommunication within that resulted in someone being more likely of becoming a killer.

In this TED Talk, neuroscientist Jim Fallon (University of California) spoke briefly about his research of analyzing different ‘types’ of brains. He was asked by a colleague to take on an experiment to compare ‘normal’ brains to the brains of psychopathic killers. He observed a total of 70 brains to compare and contrast their neurological likeness. He found that all murderers had a similar area of damage to the brain: the orbital cortex and anterior temporal lobe. Fallon also had brought to the audience’s attention of how the major violence gene (MAOA) is a high risk gene for murderers/psychopathic killers. The MAOA gene is only found in the mother’s X chromosome. Due to this information, it is reasonable to conclude that this is why mostly men (XY) are psychopaths rather than women (XX). Fallon made the observation that  This biological aspect of the brain also relates back to his point of the baby having too much serotonin during its development: it does not work later on in life because you become accustomed to the chemical. Fallon wrapped all of these observations and discoveries to conclude that a psychopathic killer originates from a mixture of genes, brain damage, environmental exposure, and the ‘perfect’ timing in the developmental age. If a child is exposed to traumatic violence and obtains the major violence gene during a crucial point of their developmental stage, then it is the perfect recipe of becoming  a psychopathic killer.

Overall, Fallon and his data were considerably trustworthy information. Jim Fallon presents his information that he conducted himself from the University of California. He had reliable sources, as well as the collection of data that he had presented. Fallon explained how he conducted his research on the 70 different brains there should have been no bias since he was ‘blind’ as to which true type of brain was being examined; therefore, he would not know which brain was ‘normal’ versus ‘psychopathic’. He is a valid authoritative figure to rely on for this type of information. Fallon is a nueroscientist, who had conducted the experiment and gave us feedback himself. TED Talks are generally valid presentations of reliable information being given.

If I were to conduct a research experiment based off of Jim Fallon’s findings, I would conduct research to answer the questions I had constructed in the first paragraph as to why I was drawn to the topic. In this instance, I will focus on one single proposition: how parents certain parents (authoritative, neglectful, permissive, and authoritarian) can impact their child’s brain towards becoming a psychopathic killer or if they do at all.

From his data collected and the task at hand, I have created the theory that parenting styles have a large influential impact upon their child to later demonstrate psychopathic tendencies. Parenting styles is not dependent on whether or not the child becomes a psychopathic killer, but rather being a psychopathic killer is dependent on how their parent raised them. There is not an experimental way to test this theory because it would be unethical and morally wrong to impose children to the dangers of certain parenting styles, as well as the possible negative side effects of doing such.There would be no way to randomly assign this test due to this reason. Therefore, to test this theory there must be research done upon psychopathic killers already out there. Their backgrounds, childhood experiences, and parents’ lifestyle all must be researched upon. Each would be focused upon individually and recorded. There would be, over time, a vast data set of this information to fall back on to make the conclusion if one type of parenting style versus another is correlated with a child becoming a psychopathic killer. The results can be compared to other ‘normal’ individuals that do not appear to have psychopathic tendencies and how their parent’s had raised them.



In addition to this post (this is not a mandatory portion of the assignment), I would like to add an article from ABC News that I had found about Jim Fallon.

It is a short interview and description of Fallon’s similar genetic and neurological makeup. He has quite a bit of similarities in genes, as well as having a low amount of activity in the orbital cortex and anterior temporal lobe.However, Fallon had mentioned how he was raised: surrounded with love, care, attention, etc. Fallon obviously had grown into the man he is today without murdering anyone; however, he did not posses much empathetic emotions. Could this be a relative correlation? This case causes more reason for the type of parenting styles to be observed and compared to psycho killers vs. ‘normal’ people.



Week 4 First Impression Prompts – Neuroscience

Hand writing on a notebook

Regardless of which prompt you choose, please use the Tag “Neuroscience” on your post.

For your blog prompt this week, you are to choose one of the following TED talks:

Each talk focuses on a different aspect of the brain. In your response, address the following issues:

  • What drew you to choose the talk you did?
  • Briefly summarize the talk.
  • What did you find most interesting about the talk?
  • How trustworthy did you find the presenter and the information she or he presented? Explain why.(Note: you must go beyond talking about the reputation of TED talks in general)
  • Come up with a research idea of your own based on the information presented in the talk and briefly outline how you would conduct it.

I look forward to seeing what you write!

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Making a Murderer: Evolution at Its Finest?

Some months ago, a blog prompt caught my interest. Jim Fallon’s TED Talk considers a little contemplated notion: what if there were a gene connecting serial killers to their crimes? As it turns out, there just might be.

The MAOA gene is responsible for producing monoamine oxidase A, an enzyme which degrades neurotransmitters in the brain such as norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. These are crucial to regulating our moods and their subsequent actions. MAOA genes come in five “flavors,” or differing levels of activity; however, for my purpose, it’ll be simplified into either “high” or “low” rates of enzymatic activity, denoted by the suffix “-H” and “-L.”

A handful of research studies have shown a correlation between the presence of MAOA-L and rash, aggressive behavior–probably due to lower concentrations of MAOA resulting in a surplus of the aforementioned neurotransmitters since there’s less enzyme to decay them.

For example, a study conducted by Brown University linked MAOA-L to higher rates of aggressive behavior in response to an irritating stimulus. The study involved 78 college age males who completed a task, received payment, and had a certain amount of money subtracted from their account by an unseen opponent. The participants could then choose to punish their opponent by making them eat hot sauce. Students possessing MAOA-L were more likely to exact their revenge than those coded for MAOA-H, especially when large amounts of money were taken. Researchers posit this demonstrates a linkage between our genetic and evolutionary history, citing “altruistic punishment”–the evolutionary psychology theory stating some of us evolved to punish deviant members of our social groups for the benefit of the larger sum.

Evolution appears once more in a study summarizing the occurrence of MAOA-L genes in different ethnic populations. Interestingly, MAOA-L appears to be more common in populations with a history of warfare. For instance, 56% of Maori men possess the gene. The Maori are a people who in the past fought amongst one another in competition for the Polynesian islands’ limited natural resources. Consequentially, it makes sense a high percentage of successful lineages would bear the genes which made their ancestors victorious in war. Due to this, the MAOA gene is often dubbed the “warrior gene.” Still, it’s important to regard the other numbers recounted. The MAOA-L gene is common to 34% of European men, 56% of Chinese men, 58% of African American men, and 61% of Taiwanese men.

I’d be interested in knowing the percentages of African men to determine whether or not the frequency in African Americans is because of pressures in the U.S., if the trait is older, or if it’s a combination of the two. Additionally, I’d love to research the history of these ethnicities to determine whether high percentages coincide with historical events or not since another source claims the gene to be prevalent in 1/3 of the “Western world” and 2/3 in less developed regions. Although genotypic changes probably take multiple generations to stabilize, I doubt it’s a linear trend.

Now, does all of this mean the mere possession of the MAOA gene outright determines a person will become a murdering machine? Well, for one, despite the gene being relatively common in the population 30-50% of us don’t commit violent crime. This brings us back to Jim Fallon’s TED Talk and his claim of environment having a great influence on the individual a la epigenetics. Alondra Oubre’s article agrees, saying child abuse during the ages of 1-5 years of age especially increase the risk of a MAOA-L gene carrier developing antisocial characteristics which could lead to violent crime. Moreover, a Finnish study recounted by Dr. Emily Deans for Psychology Today brings up it may not be the MAOA-L gene alone causing individuals to be violent. Instead, it’s proposed a combination of high risk genes plus environmental influences  lead to violence. The study examined prison inmates who had committed over ten “seriously violent crimes,” finding a 13.45 odds ratio between low activity MAOA genes and the CDH13 gene, a gene responsible for producing an adhesive protein in the brain. It’s also linked to alcoholism, strengthening the connection between alcoholism and violent behavior.

I’d be curious to know whether or not these factors were more common back when the warrior gene presented a definite advantage to our survival and if practically everyone with dormant violent tendencies would demonstrate them.

All in all, I found this an incredibly cool topic to research. It reawakened my love for our evolutionary history as a species from a biological, anthropological, and psychological perspective and the interaction between all these aspects is something I’d love to explore more.



Baum, D. (2009, January 19). Punishment by Hot Sauce “Warrior Gene” Predicts Aggressive Behavior After Provocation. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from

Deans, E., Dr. (2014, October 30). A Gene for Violence? Retrieved May 5, 2016, from 

Jim Fallon: Exploring the mind of a killer [Video file]. (2009, February). Retrieved May 5, 2016, from

Oubre, A. (2014, July 31). The Extreme Warrior gene: A reality check. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from


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.

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.