From 'Callous' Child to Full-Blown Psychopath

The 'Atlantic' looks at treatment advances for 'untreatable' kids who lack empathy
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2017 8:04 PM CDT
From 'Callous' Child to Full-Blown Psychopath
What determines the path that a callous child takes?   (Getty Images/djedzura)

The story of Samantha is a heartbreaking one, as told by Barbara Bradley Hagerty in the Atlantic. Adopted into a large family, the 11-year-old started exhibiting cruel traits from the time she was a toddler, trying to choke two younger siblings before she turned 7, and when her mom finally got a diagnosis (one she suspected), it was a stunner: conduct disorder with callous and unemotional traits, shorthand for a rare and basically untreatable condition that can balloon into full-blown adult psychopathy. Hagerty talks about the children who exhibit the symptoms of this disorder (1% of the kid population), including lack of empathy or remorse, aggression, manipulative behaviors, and (notably) lack of emotion, but she notes how the psychiatric world is reluctant to stigmatize kids as psychopaths, especially since not every child with callous traits goes on to become an adult psychopath.

Hagerty notes the signs that emerge early on, diving into the neural abnormalities that both adult psychopaths and callous children share, trying to find a link that could help lead to better early intervention—especially since callous kids tend to be nonchalant about punishment due to their emotional insensitivity. However, while the emotional centers of psychopathic brains are stunted, the reward centers seem to work overtime, and so that's what scientists are now trying to target. "You co-opt the system [and] work with what's left," a University of New Mexico psychologist says. This approach may not "cure" affected kids, but advocates hope to keep them just this side of the law for the long haul. The new benchmark of success for Samantha's parents, who are bringing her home from her treatment center this summer? "Simply keeping her out of prison," Hagerty writes. The rest of her chilling piece here. (Could your company's CEO be a psychopath?)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.