Around one in a hundred children display psychopathic traits, an expert has warned, but what are the signs you should watch out for?
Professor Stephen Scott, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, says one per cent of children display callous-unemotional traits, a condition he says is “largely unrecognised”.
“We don’t like using the word psychopath in under 18s, but there is a high continuity to becoming a so-called antisocial personality disorder with psychopathic traits,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
Professor Scott also outlined certain characteristics that children who suffer from the condition display, referencing a child interviewed on the programme who could not be left alone with his sister because of his violent tendencies.
He said in extreme cases, children displaying callous-unemotional traits could become a criminal psychopath in later life.
Signs to watch out for:
1. Superficially charming
“The characteristics are they would be superficially charming, but when they see other people in distress … they don’t care,” says Professor Scott.
2. They feel no guilt or remorse
“In adulthood, of course, if they’ve got that to a mild degree they can make a great CEO of a corporation that has to reduce the workforce, to a third of its original value.
“They will be very selfish for their own needs,” he adds.
3. Fascinated about certain things
“They will be fascinated about certain things, like technology, if you offer him to play with your latest gizmo, watch or recording device,” explains the professor.
4. Short temper
“He will do something nice for you for five minutes, but it won’t last and if you cross him he will lose it very quickly and get very angry,” he says.
5. Punishment insensitive
“The fact that the cause is primarily biological, it doesn’t mean to say we can’t try and do things (to treat them),” he told the programme.
“They are however … so-called punishment insensitive, you can put them in their room, you can take away their sweets and things and they will be insouciant.
“Parents can try and reward them in little, small steps, if you do, there is some response to that.”
6. Lack of empathy
“When we scan their brains we find an area called the amygdala, which is where you acknowledge emotions and process them, (and) it’s completely quiet and flat. So they will understand what is going on, but they don’t care.”
Professor Scott says anti-social behaviour in children that is persistent and outside the normal quantity is “untalked about because it’s rather shameful” and has called for more investment in children’s mental health services.