Are you Good or Evil?

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What makes us good or evil? It's a simple but deeply unsettling question. One that scientists are now starting to answer. Horizon meets the researchers who have studied some of the most terrifying people behind bars - psychopathic killers. But there was a shock in store for one of these scientists, Professor Jim Fallon, when he discovered that he had the profile of a psychopath. And the reason he didn't turn out to be a killer holds important lessons for all of us. We 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. The notion of an arduous battle between good and evil has underpinned narratives worldwide ever since humans were able to communicate their ideals. It can be easy to label psychopaths and murderers  “inhuman,” and use polarisations such as “good vs evil” rather than analyse them, as it allows us to disassociate from traits which the majority of people would find disturbing and undesirable. However, as this episode of Horizon explores, the harsh reality is that some of us appear biologically predisposed to have violent, impulsive and even psychopathic tendencies, which, left unchecked, could make murder easier than even the perpetrator imagined. While the dictionary likely has a multitude of complex definitions of what good and evil mean to society, little is known about what they mean to neuroscience. So, armed with a film crew, some lab equipment and a phone book full of experts, the folks at Horizon prepared to guide us intelligently through a sea of moral ambiguity, using a series of tests to help us understand where our sense of right and wrong originates, and how this has been proved to be different for psychopaths.

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