First Impression Post (FIP) – The mind of a killer

This week in psychology, we are learning about different parts of the brain and how it affects different functions.  We were given multiple TED Talks to choose from to watch and I chose the TED Talks video titled “Exploring the mind of a killer.”

This topic is very interesting to me, because murderers don’t seem to have the same moral values that most people in society have, so the study of the way their mind works sounds interesting to me.  In the video, Jim Fallon, a neuroscientist and a professor at the University of California talked about his in depth research, specifically in the past few years, surrounding psychopathic killers.  He talked about the structural differences between the brains of these killers and the brains of normal individuals.  He also discussed how the gene MAOA, a major violence gene, can easily be passed on from mother to son, during the early developmental stages.  This could be a reason why most psychopathic killers are often males, because more men seem to carry this particular gene.  However, it is only triggered when the child with this gene has experienced something extremely violent before the age they hit puberty.  Jim Fallon went on to discuss his own dark family history and how it has shaped the way he views his own family tree.

What I found most interesting about the talk was the fact that many “normal” people in society could possibly be carriers of the MAOA gene and not even realize it.  It makes me question what act of violence would be so great that seeing it as a child would cause a lasting psychological change in that person’s mind.

Overall, I found the presenter to be trustworthy, primarily because he is an experienced neuroscientist and a professor and because he seemed very passionate about the topic he was discussing.  He also noted the many complex brains of killers that he had studied during his research.

By using the information presented in the video, I too, could conduct a research project, possibly surrounding the question of when do individuals with this triggered MAOA gene feel the need to murder or incite violence into the world?  I would look at specific cases of killers and see at what age they began to show signs of violence.  I think it would be interesting to know how the gene affected each of them at different times in their life and to look into possible reasons or triggers for this.


2 thoughts on “First Impression Post (FIP) – The mind of a killer

  1. Fallon said that traumatic violence must be experienced before puberty for the violence gene to be activated, so your research idea could be a good way to test the validity of that claim. Or, even better, Fallon didn’t seem to indicate if there was any way to know how long of a period there might be between the gene being activated and the first significantly violent act. Other than just finding the first violent act, you could also try to find when they were exposed to a traumatic experience (if at all). If there is some kind of pattern in terms of how long it might take from gene activation to action, that might be really helpful in efforts to monitor children who witnessed traumatic violence for a certain period of time and maybe even try to increase prevention of psychopathic killing.


  2. Your question about what really triggers the expression of violent behavior is a good one. If only a certain portion of the population with this gene actually gets violent, understanding what turns the violence “on” is critically important. How might you go about gathering the information about the participants when they turn violent? Interviews? Surveys? That will be a challenge of this kind of study.


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