What is it that makes us good or evil? Scientists are daring to investigate this unsettling question, they’re trying to peel back the mask of the psychopathic killer. These are people who seem to lack any form of conscience, but what is it that separates us regular folk from these terrifying people. By exposing the biology that divides vice from virtue scientists reveal something about the good and evil that can be found in us all.
In this BBC Horizon episode, we meet the researchers who have studied some of these psychopathic killers from behind bars. Whilst conducting various tests one of the scientists, Professor Jim Fallon found himself flabbergasted when he discovered that he had the profile of a psychopath. Fallon is a neuroscientist at the University of California Irvine, and upon discovering a family link with the murderer Lizzie Borden he decided to analyses the brains and genomes of his close family. It was when he scanned his own brain he discovered he had this profile of a psychopath, but how come he himself didn’t turn out to be a killer? The answer to this holds some important lessons for us all.
We also meet the scientist who believes he has found the ‘moral molecule’ and the man who is using this new understanding to rewrite our ideas of crime and punishment. As we get to the end of this Horizon special it becomes more clear that our morals are influenced by a number of different factors such as our genetic makeup, our environment, neither of which are of our own choosing. If this is the case then does this mean we may not have free choice at all? This rather dramatic statement seems to go against the measured words of Waldroup’s forensic psychiatrist, who believes that while the presence of the so-called warrior gene can reduce free will, it does not take it away.
Directed by: Nikki Stockley