Forsyth Technical Community College
Research has been extensive related to the brain and how it functions since early times. This abstract will explore the connection between the amygdala and a prominent legal case that happened in 1966 with Charles Whitman (Ledoux par 3). In his early life, Charles was a model child. He was born in 1941, and raised in Florida where he was an eagle scout and was a straight A student (Ledoux par3). He joined the Marine Corps to escape a violent father and became a sharpshooter. He later enrolled at Texas University where he met his wife (Eagleman par.7). He ended up murdering his mother, his wife and 13 people along with wounding 31 others. These acts were found to be linked to a tumor behind his temporal lobe causing intense pressure on his amygdala.
Charles began to suffer from extreme headaches in 1966 (Macload pg.2). Shortly thereafter, he murdered his mother and left a note with her body saying that he though (Macload pg.4). After killing his mother, he went home and killed his wife also. The note found at her death indicated he had no specific reason for killing her other than to spare her the embarrassment over his actions (Ledoux par.3). The next day, he went atop the University of Texas observation tower and began opening fire on innocent students (Ledoux par.3). He wounded 31 people and killed 13 before he was shot by police (Macload pg.4). After his death, an autopsy was performed and he was found to have a pecan sized tumor pressing against his amygdala, which is linked to the emotions of fear and aggression (Ledoux par.6).
The amygdala is a region of the brain involved in a wide range of behavioral functions and psychiatric conditions (Eagleman par.9). A couple decades ago this region commanded little attention from the scientific community. Today it is one of the most studied areas of the brain (Ledoux, par.1).
In the late 1930’s, researchers noticed that damage to the temporal lobe resulted in big changes in fear reactivity and aggression (Eagleman par6). These studies showed that fear-avoidance plays a big result of this damage (Ledoux par.11). This is a prime example of when Whitman killed his mother and wife. His mother had been living with an abusing husband and finally moved away, but in Whitman’s mind she could never get over the fear and the only way to avoid it was to kill her (Eagleman par.8). With his wife, on the other hand, he felt she could not deal with the social repercussions of the mass murder he was about to commit so he killed her in her sleep (Eagleman par.13). Both of these acts are very clear and easily connected incidences that coincide with the amygdala being affected. Thus, forming irrational fears and most of all the fear of shock.
The Amygdala is directly linked to emotions of fear and anger so it is tough to say whether or not it was totally his fault; be it be how he was raised or the results of the tumor. This tumor could happen to any of us, but there was no way to know what was causing these headaches, or making him want to commit the mass murder. By leaving the note stating he knew something was wrong with his head. His statement of wanting an autopsy of his brain, it gives me reason to believe it was mostly the tumor that drove him to do this.
In my personal opinion, I think it would be totally unfair to the numerous families of the deceased to let him live. Even though he had a physical problem which led him to commit these heinous acts, he ultimately is responsible for his actions.
Ladoux, J. (2013, October 24). Retrieved from http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Amygdala Macload, M. (n.d.). Charles Whitman: The Texas Bell Tower Sniper. Early Charlie — — Crime Library. Retrieved , from http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/mass/whitman/charlie_2.html Eagleman, D. (2011, June 7). The Brain on Trial....
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