Evidence

Research Is Murder for Lucky Scientist with Lizzie Borden in Family Tree


Neuroscientist Jim Fallon was already studying the brains and DNA samples from seven family members, as a personal project to determine relatives’ risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

So unexpected news from his mother that multiple possible killers were in his family tree was a bonanza of potential behavioral research, reports the Wall Street Journal in a lengthy page-one article. Among those to whom the University of California faculty member is related is Lizzie Borden, a distant cousin who was famously acquitted in the 1890s of the ax murders of her father and stepmother.

Opportunities to study known violent criminals are rare, even as scientists, including Fallon, develop an increasing body of research suggesting that certain genetic traits, in combination with brain injury and early childhood trauma, may be the cause of their anti-social behavior, the newspaper recounts.

Pursing the information about those in his own family tree, however, has led to an unexpected result: Of all the relatives whose brains and genetic traits were studied by the 62-year-old Fallon, “I’m the one who looks most like a serial killer,” he says. “It’s disturbing.”

He credits his own happy childhood for steering him safely away from a potential life of crime.

Related coverage:

New York Times: “We May Be Born With an Urge to Help”

Updated at 4 p.m. to link to related New York Times article.

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