Jamie Reidy shares a frightening New York Times Magazine article on the prevalence of psychopathy in children who have not suffered abuse.
Years ago, I dated a single mom who told me about her 3-year old son’s habit of kicking their kitty cat. I joked with my roommate that I should alert the FBI, so its serial killer profilers could study the development of a mini-Hannibal Lecter.
Suddenly, that doesn’t seem like such a joke.
Prepare to be creeped out:
The New York Times Magazine’s Jennifer Kahn reports on a growing trend of child psychopaths who stump experts because these kids have suffered no abuse:
Currently, there is no standard test for psychopathy in children, but a growing number ofpsychologists believe that psychopathy, like autism, is a distinct neurological condition — one that can be identified in children as young as 5.
This is still quite controversial, obviously, as many symptoms of psychopathy – narcissism and impulsivity, for example – are natural in kids.
Some psychologists think early detection could help the children reverse their course:
Researchers hope, for example, that the capacity for empathy, which is controlled by specific parts of the brain, might still exist weakly in callous-unemtional children, and could be strengthened.
Editor’s note: Jamie meant to include this last quote from the NY Times Magazine article in order to temper alarmism, but forgot to do so.
In the 1970s, the psychiatry researcher Lee Robins conducted a series of studies on children with behavioral problems, following them into adulthood. Those studies revealed two things. The first was that nearly every psychopathic adult was deeply antisocial as a child. The second was that almost 50 percent of children who scored high on measures of antisocial qualities did not go on to become psychopathic adults. Early test scores, in other words, were necessary but not sufficient in predicting who ultimately became a violent criminal.
So, the early testing is only so helpful. But it could be particularly damning to incorrectly label a child a “psychopath.” There’s the rub.
Do you agree that psychopathy can be detected as early as pre-school? Have you seen this already amongst your kids’ schoolmates?
Photo by: Vincent Teeuwen