“Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” is the most exciting, intellectually stimulating and important television shows on the air. And in light of one of the worst gun massacres in United States history — in Aurora, Colorado — the recent episode “CAN WE ELIMINATE EVIL?” shed light on what “evil” really is, helping us to understand whether it’s inborn or learned, or possibly a combination of both.
This enlightening episode highlights researchers from around the world who are trying to target the specific areas of the brain that cause a person to become anti-social, violent or a sociopath, and whether they can neutralize or eliminate that source of “evil” in the brain.
An interesting segment of the episode was an experiment conducted by Yale psychologist, Karen Wynn, who shows that a group of cute 6-month-old babies already have a sense of built-in morality before they are old enough to be taught right from wrong. When the babies were shown a puppet show where one stuffed animal displayed helpful and social behavior while another stuffed animal acted out in a violent and aggressive manner, the babies all chose to play with the helpful, friendly puppet when given a choice to play with either one.
When and how do things go wrong?
What happens where the once innocent baby, with an innate sense of morality and empathy, turns into a raving lunatic, wielding a gun in a movie theater and gunning down anyone in his path without conscience or a sense of humanity?
According the scientists in the episode, the problems can begin depending on various aspects of life that babies are exposed to as they grow up. Were they loved, accepted, encouraged and taught tolerance of others? Were they taught racism and hate and told that people who weren’t like them were the “other”? Were they picked on, neglected, abused, physically or emotionally, or both?
While researching the brain scans of psychopaths and murderers, neuroanatomist, Jim Fallon, discovered that he had the same brain abnormality of his psychopath patients and didn’t even know it. When he examined his own brain scan while looking for traces of Alzheimer’s Disease, he laughed and thought he had mixed up his brain scan with one of the murderers.
Looking into his genetic DNA profile and far back into his family history, Jim found that he inherited several high-risk genes that are known to cause violent behavior. When investigating his family tree, he found he had ancestors on his father’s side who committed murder. Jim told National Public Radio that his family tree showed that he was related to the infamous Lizzy Borden, who although acquitted, was always believed to have hacked her parents to death in 1800s. He also found that his direct great-grandfather was hanged for murdering his wife.
Shocked and dismayed, Jim proceeded to ask his family and friends what they thought of his personality. It was a consensus among everyone that he is “psycho,” “too competitive,” “has to win everything” and “manipulative,” but because he has never displayed violent behavior, is an esteemed scientist, has a stable marriage and family, is funny and the life of the party, no one gave it any more thought.
Beating the odds
How could Jim beat the results of his own “psychopathic” brain scan and a genetic DNA profile and family history connected to violent tendencies?
Jim’s brain scan revealed that the part of the human brain that is involved with ethical behavior, moral decision-making and impulse control, had nothing there: zilch.
He concluded that because he grew up in a loving, happy and stable home, where his parents and grandparents encouraged him to excel and supported him in his endeavors, and because of his strong social relationships with his siblings, extended family and friends, he was able to quell those “evil” impulses that might have been brought out if he had been born into a dysfunctional, abusive, or lonely home without supportive social interaction. Instead of becoming a scientist, he might have become a career criminal and possibly a violent murderer.
In the end, we know that babies are born with empathy and goodwill, that they are naturally social beings who automatically gravitate toward others who exhibit compassion and a sense of community. But the fork in the road on life’s journey is the baby’s environment. Jim Fallon concludes that his childhood made all the difference.
I’m positive that there are human beings who are so mentally damaged that even the most supportive environment would not make a difference, but the Yale study proved that “most of us” have inborn empathy for our fellow human.
Nature is Strong, but Nurture is Hercules
Having a child is such an important undertaking. Every life born has a direct and tangible impact on the environment it orbits. It’s vitally important for children to have strong, positive, nurturing social connections with their parents, siblings and peers. Let us all make sure that we teach the children in our lives to be part of a world community, to be inquisitive and curious, and to embrace acceptance and tolerance in others.