I was thinking about the Hitman character of Agent 47 and I thought if in the future genetic engineering could be used to create a person with no emotions and feelings at all. How could this be achieved? Mutations in the limbic system of the brain maybe?


All it takes is a disruption to a small ribbon of nerve tissue In the middle of the brain. Side effects are inability to prioritize, inability to recognize or respond to normal social cues, and unpredictability because they will act on impulse. Memory formation is also governed by emotion, so teaching them anything and having them remember anything that was not immediately critical would be an issue. Emotionless hitmen are unreliable hitmen.

I know this because of a brain injury I live with.

  • 10
    $\begingroup$ can't compare to your personal knowledge, but there is good layman's information about this (matching your answer) in Jonah Lehrer's book: The Decisive Moment: How The Brain Makes Up Its Mind. Clinical accounts pretty much dispel the myth of emotionlessness leading to enhanced effectiveness - emotions are needed for decision-making. Sorry that you have to live with this and appreciate hearing your experience. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Jun 23 '18 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ If they have impulses then they have some emotions. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 23 '18 at 4:10
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ In his documentary, "The brain with David Eagleman", the neuroscientist also explains how emotions are crucial in the decision-making process. He shows the case of a woman with a brain injury in the area that connects emotions and reasoning. As a consequence, the poor woman is unable to make a choice between to equivalent things (like eating fish or meat, wearing a dress or pants) and her everyday life is very difficult. $\endgroup$ – Ghajini Jun 23 '18 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ @John Without emotion, there is no reason to stay focused on anything. I'm snackish, so I'll walk away from this important assassination that we only get one chance at and get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Later, wasnt I doing something before I got this snack? Why am I carrying around a sniper rifle? So I'm 1000 miles from home let's see what's going on ... see? No emotion, no impulse control. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Jun 23 '18 at 11:21


Emotions are the basic operating signals of the brain, you can no more have complex build a brain without emotions then you can have a windows program without any binary. A brain that cannot process pleasure cannot learn. Pleasure is how the brain builds correlations between events (engrams). You could create a reduced spectrum of emotions but eliminating all emotions is impossible if you want them to be able to do anything.

There are people that cannot consciously or subconsciously process emotions, Alexithymia, in some cases even lack some "higher" emotions, but they still possess some emotions, however they often exist only at the nonconscious level which may be the closest to what you want. Interestingly this often makes these individuals vulnerable to addiction, the brain can still feel pleasure but they are not consciously aware of it which may make addition easier since it is bypassing some the major ways the brain regulates behavior.

  • $\begingroup$ So you mean it's possible to create a person who is very phlegmatic but never truly emotionless? $\endgroup$ – user18428 Jul 9 '18 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ essentially yes, emotions are not a single thing and some are less essential than others but some like pleasure and discomfort have to be present for the brain to function. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 9 '18 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ Whatever is the opposite of alexithymia (eulexithymia?) might be a useful trait to give a hypothetical Agent, rather than, or as well as, monkeying with the emotions themselves. That is, particularly good recognition of their physiological reactions, and perhaps even control of them, biofeedback-style. For instance, if adrenaline started to kick in in circumstances where it wasn't useful they would notice straight away and shut it off or at least compensate for it. (1/2) $\endgroup$ – A. B. Feb 3 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ (Adrenaline is of no use to a marksman however fraught the circumstances, for instance, it only makes your hands shake - some Olympic archers go so far as to take beta blockers before competitions.) How you'd do that, of course, is another question, as I don't know whether they even know anything about what causes alexithymia yet. (2/2) $\endgroup$ – A. B. Feb 3 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ @A.B. The opposite of alexithymia is "normal". Alexithymia is a symptom of several psychological or neurological disorders and the absence of it is considered to be the base state. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Feb 3 at 19:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.