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Child Psychopathic Signs Can Be Found As Early As 3 Years Old, Study Suggests

Can a three-year-old be a psychopath?
Rear view of a boy
Jeane Ellroy via Getty Images
Rear view of a boy

Can a three-year-old be a psychopath?

We can't say for sure. But a recent study shows that traits associated with the condition can be spotted in kids at that very age.

A study out of the University of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia, which was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, examined 214 girls and boys in preschools to see whether researchers could find callous and unemotional traits, which are associated with psychopathy.

They did this by exposing the kids to images that showed a variety of facial expressions, as well as distressing and neutral pictures, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The research, which was led by clinical child psychologist Dr. Eva Kimonis, found that kids who possessed callous and unemotional traits had more difficulty recognizing facial expressions, and were "less attentionally engaged by images of others in distress when co-occurring conduct problems presented."

Indeed, 10 per cent of the kids in the study showed such traits, which included lacking sympathy for others' feelings, The Herald said.

"Even very young children with these traits show that difficulty in recognizing emotions in others and they are also not engaged by other people's emotions," Kimonis told the newspaper.

"When they see people in distress it's not capturing their attention in the same way as it would for the healthy population."

The research could "open several avenues for studying early precursors to this severe personality disturbance," said an abstract.

Meanwhile, research out of the United Kingdom suggests that one can spot psychopathic traits in a five-week-old baby.

King's College London researchers examined 213 babies as part of a study looking at whether they were more fascinated by a red ball than people's faces.

The babies were first examined at five weeks. They were then studied again at two-and-a-half years old to determine whether they possessed callous and unemotional traits.

Subjects that were more fascinated by the red ball than people's faces showed more unemotional traits, which psychologists have linked to antisocial behaviour.

Study author Rachel Bedford told The Huffington Post that it's not yet known how much unemotional traits and adult psychopathy are correlated.

But she did say, "Callous unemotional behaviours in children are known to be associated with an increased emotional burden on families as well as later criminality and antisocial behaviour."


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