The Child Psychopath
Psychopathy seems to manifest itself early in childhood - perhaps as early as two or three, according to this article in The Atlantic by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. The term of art for these children is "callous and unemotional child," partly because nobody wants to label young children with such a sinister diagnosis and partly because some of them seem to grow out of it or at least become functional adults. The cause is unknown but there are clear physical and physiological correlates to go along with the behavioral traits.
The first abnormality appears in the limbic system, the set of brain structures involved in, among other things, processing emotions. In a psychopath’s brain, this area contains less gray matter. “It’s like a weaker muscle,” Kiehl says. A psychopath may understand, intellectually, that what he is doing is wrong, but he doesn’t feel it. “Psychopaths know the words but not the music” is how Kiehl describes it. “They just don’t have the same circuitry.”They are dangerous from an early age:
One bitter December day in 2011, Jen was driving the children along a winding road near their home. Samantha had just turned 6. Suddenly Jen heard screaming from the back seat, and when she looked in the mirror, she saw Samantha with her hands around the throat of her 2-year-old sister, who was trapped in her car seat. Jen separated them, and once they were home, she pulled Samantha aside.
“What were you doing?,” Jen asked.
“I was trying to choke her,” Samantha said.
“You realize that would have killed her? She would not have been able to breathe. She would have died.”
“What about the rest of us?”
“I want to kill all of you.”
Samantha later showed Jen her sketches, and Jen watched in horror as her daughter demonstrated how to strangle or suffocate her stuffed animals. “I was so terrified,” Jen says. “I felt like I had lost control.”The worst thing about the psychopathic diagnosis is that psychopaths are thought to be incurable, but a new therapy that focuses on rewards rather than punishments seems to help children, at least. See linked article for details.