12 December 2017

Psychopathic children

Excerpts from an interesting read in The Atlantic:
Starting at age 6, Samantha began drawing pictures of murder weapons: a knife, a bow and arrow, chemicals for poisoning, a plastic bag for suffocating. She tells me that she pretended to kill her stuffed animals.
“You were practicing on your stuffed animals?,” I ask her.
She nods.
“How did you feel when you were doing that to your stuffed animals?”
“Why did it make you feel happy?”
“Because I thought that someday I was going to end up doing it on somebody.”
“Did you ever try?”
“I choked my little brother.”..

When Samantha got a little older, she would pinch, trip, or push her siblings and smile if
they cried. She would break into her sister’s piggy bank and rip up all the bills. Once, when Samantha was 5, Jen scolded her for being mean to one of her siblings. Samantha walked upstairs to her parents’ bathroom and washed her mother’s contact lenses down the drain. “Her behavior wasn’t impulsive,” Jen says. “It was very thoughtful, premeditated.”...

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.”
“I know.”
“What about the rest of us?”
“I want to kill all of you.”
The article continues with extended discussion of the role of the amygdala and the possible biology of the disorder.  I thought this was interesting:
The best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate, says Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania. Longitudinal studies that followed thousands of men in Sweden, the U.K., and Brazil all point to this biological anomaly. “We think that low heart rate reflects a lack of fear, and a lack of fear could predispose someone to committing fearless criminal-violence acts,” Raine says. Or perhaps there is an “optimal level of physiological arousal,” and psychopathic people seek out stimulation to increase their heart rate to normal. “For some kids, one way of getting this arousal jag in life is by shoplifting, or joining a gang, or robbing a store, or getting into a fight.” Indeed, when Daniel Waschbusch, a clinical psychologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, gave the most severely callous and unemotional children he worked with a stimulative medication, their behavior improved.
Continue reading at The Atlantic.


  1. "Psychopathic."

  2. For virtually all of history, psychopathy and other related disorders have been viewed as a defect of character. I'm encouraged by the efforts of researchers that have started to make inroads into understanding the biological component, and I hope that success in this area leads to novel treatments and a decrease in the stigma that has inevitably accompanied such diagnoses.

    With that in mind, I wanted to direct you to the following article published just yesterday on NPR.org: https://www.npr.org/2017/12/12/569060702/a-newtown-familys-campaign-to-change-how-we-think-about-violence

    Additionally, there was a piece that was broadcast the day before that is available here : https://www.npr.org/2017/12/11/569815310/scientists-work-to-stop-violence-after-losing-their-child-in-newtown

    Avielle's parents are among my dearest friends, and Avielle and my son (who are very close in age) were very close as well. I believe in the work they're doing, and I hope you'll take a few minutes to look into these links.

  3. Psychopathy is no single defect. It's a parasitic race. If only it could be detected in the placental fluid, we could end those criminal careers early. With the modern media (Twitter in particular) psychopaths have a much higher reach.


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