One in a hundred children are ‘psychopathic’, warn researchers – and they say there is nothing parents can do to control them

Read Time:2 Minute, 21 Second

  • Scientists say affected children lie, cheat,  manipulate and commit acts of remorseless cruelty
  • Traditional punishments have no effect on  their behaviour

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:11:49 EST, 30  August 2012| UPDATED:15:22 EST, 31 August 2012


Around 1 per cent of children could be  inherently psychopathic, with parents unable to turn around their behaviour,  according to researchers.

Up until now, children who lie, manipulate  and commit acts of cruelty without remorse were thought to be the product of  poor parenting.

But psychologists at University College  London said two studies which they carried out showed such traits are largely  genetic.

Researchers found that one in 100 British children display signs of psychopathic behaviour, and that normal parenting methods rarely work because the children an incapable of empathyResearchers found that one in 100 British children  display signs of psychopathic behaviour, and that normal parenting methods  rarely work because the children an incapable of empathy

It means typical punishments such as the  ‘naughty step’ are unlikely to be effective.

The theme is explored in bestselling  novel  We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, which is about a  mother  struggling to come to terms with her psychopathic, killer son.

Lead researcher Professor Essi Viding said  the novel was a good portrayal of a child psychopath and how their behaviour  cannot be blamed on parents.

She said: ‘Yes, the mother was not a  perfect  mother. But this mother managed to bring up one child [Kevin’s  sister] who was  perfectly well-integrated and typical, and another child who was extremely,  extremely troublesome.’

The researchers said such children,  which  they describe as ‘callous-unemotional’, form a distinct sub-group of badly  behaved youngsters.

They predicted between a quarter and  half of  children with conduct problems could fall into this category,  equating to  around 1 per cent of all children in the UK.

The researchers also warn that traditional parenting methods to discipline children such as the naughty step are unlikely to workThe researchers also warn that traditional parenting  methods to discipline children such as the naughty step are unlikely to work

Professor Viding said that although  children  who had anti-social behavioural tendencies were more likely to  be the product  of poor parenting, this was not the case for children  with psychopathic  tendencies.

She said: ‘For the group which has  callous-unemotional traits, there’s a strong genetic vulnerability.

‘This does not mean these children are born  anti-social or are destined to become anti-social.

‘But in the same way that some of us  are  more susceptible to heart disease, these children are people who are more  vulnerable to environmental influences that trigger the  anti-social  outcome.’

However, Professor Viding, who will  present  her findings at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen next  week, said there  is some evidence that psychopathic children respond to  ‘warm parenting’.

This might mean giving children what they  want in return for good behaviour, even against the parents’ better  judgment.

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Categories: All Posts, Control, Inhibiting Self Determination,

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