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We’ve all heard of psychopaths and have preconceived notions of who we think they are. We tend to think of them as cold and methodical killers when the reality is much different. While some psychopaths are violent, there are many who engage in similarly remorseless, immoral, and antisocial behavior who are not. Fascinatingly, many of these signs emerge in early childhood and can develop throughout the child’s life. To better look into this, in this article, we’ll be looking at seven signs of a future psychopath.
But First, What Is Psychopathy?
Psychopathy is not a one-size-fits all condition. In fact, it’s not a condition that can be diagnosed. Rather, it is a personality trait that varies in intensity; some people will rank higher on the scale of psychopathy than others. The trait itself is associated with antisocial behavior and as such, is usually diagnosed as Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) otherwise known as sociopathy. While there are differences between the two, both are characterized by a lack of empathy, disregard to social norms and rules, and manipulative behaviors (Lindberg 2019). While the diagnosis criteria for ASPD is 18, signs of antisocial behavior can be found much earlier.
1. Lack of Guilt and Remorse
The most telltale sign of psychopathy is the lack of guilt and remorse. While our first instinct might be to think of murder or other serious crime, it is much more complex than that. A child may feel no guilt or remorse for anything. This could include accidentally hurting someone, to breaking a rule at school, or teasing a person; they generally don’t feel or care if they are wrong and have a disregard for social norms. They can even turn on other kids that are close to them with a desire to be feared (Whibourne 2016).
2. Lack of Empathy
Another telltale sign (and one that is seemingly obvious) is having limited to no empathy towards others. Children like this can be especially callous towards others in their behavior and have little regard to how other kids may feel about a situation. In extreme cases, a child may abuse animals, but isn’t always the case. It is possible that they form fascinations around violent acts, either viewing or participating. They also tend to be unable to recognize facial expressions. They may bully and harass others with carelessness and limited regret for their actions (Leonard 2020). Interestingly, some studies have shown that a number of people high in psychopathy can empathize with others, however it must be an active choice to do so (Dolan 2019).
3. Compulsive Lying
Much like their adult counterparts, children showing early signs of psychopathy tend to lie. These lies may be rather insignificant or more grand in nature. Stories will change and attempts to cover evidence will be taken to avoid being caught. Lies can especially be used in manipulation to get others to perform certain tasks. There tends to be a callousness in these actions meaning that the person lying doesn’t care about the consequences of getting caught or the fact that they are manipulating someone. In children, they tend to first target the ones closest to them; usually family and friends (Arreola 2018).
4. No Reaction To Punishment
Children who score high in psychopathy tend to have limited remorse for their actions and also usually respond poorly to punishment. When looking at brain scans of psychopaths, their response patterns are much different than people who are low in psychopathy (Pappas 2013). Generally speaking, they don’t respond to conventional punishments as well as others and tend to resort back to the bad behaviors. Rehabilitation programs tend to be less successful and the re-imprisonment rate is high in adult psychopaths. In children, they tend to have little care about consequences and remorse preventing their ability to learn from their mistakes (Wanjek 2015).
5. No Sharing
Lack of sharing tends be a prominent feature in future psychopaths. With little care to the needs of others or their feelings, they don’t feel the need to do so. Psychopaths tend to be highly self-centered and will put their needs before anyone else. It doesn’t matter if the other child needs a particular item more than the “psychopathic” one or not. Children showing disregard to others and having a poor attitude with sharing can be a sign of something deeper (Morin 2020).
6. Mischievous Behavior
Psychopathy comes with antisocial tendencies meaning that people high in the trait have a higher tendency to partake in socially unacceptable behaviors. Children and adolescents may get into fights and partake in destructive behaviors more frequently than children who are less psychopathic. Young children can steal and break toys. Similarly they may start hurting animals and pets. Older children can attack others, especially authority figures with weapons. The specific behaviors may start to emerge as early as in 2 years of age and only increase as the child grows. Psychopaths tend to have a limited view on morality allowing them to break laws and rules that someone who isn’t psychopathic might think twice about doing (Ni 2018).
Psychopaths are known for their ability to charm and manipulate others. Part of this comes from a sense of charisma, however the charisma is usually surface level and fake. They can use their superficiality to control others to think that they are caring or intelligent, when in reality they are faking their behavior. In some cases, they can trick people in rehabilitation programs to thinking that they’re showing progress when they’re only pretending to do so (Arreola 2018).
While most psychopaths are not our preconceived ideas of ice cold murderers, people who rank high in psychopathy still present their challenges. Certain behaviors tend to begin in childhood and develop throughout the child’s life causing harm to themselves and others. Treatment for psychopathy and sociopathy tends to be extremely difficult and requiring someone who specializes in the area, however is still possible. There are options available for positive behavioral changes in children who show psychopathic tendencies.
What are your thoughts on psychopathy? Are there any more signs? What surprised you most? Let us know in the comments!
- Arreola, G. (2018, December 21). Psychopathy in Children: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment. Exploring Your Mind. exploringyourmind.com/psychopathy-in-children-causes-treatment/
- Dolan, E. W. (2019, December 11). Psychopathic individuals have the ability to empathize — they just don’t like to. PsyPost. www.psypost.org/2019/12/psychopathic-individuals-have-the-ability-to-empathize-they-just-dont-like-to-55022
- Dr. Todd Grande. (2019, February 4). 11 Signs a Child May Become a Psychopath | Psychopathic Risk Factors [Video]. YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=887&v=7pKYmCp3-Hs&feature=emb_logo
- Leonard, J. (2020, June 4). What is a psychopath? MedicalNewsToday. www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychopath#when-to-see-a-doctor
- Lindberg, S. (2019, January 9). Psychopath. Healthline. www.healthline.com/health/psychopath#signs
- Morin, A. (2020, April 15). How You Can Tell If Your Child Is a Psychopath. Verywell Family. www.verywellfamily.com/is-my-child-a-psychopath-4175470
- Ni, P. (2018, October 7). 7 Characteristics of the Modern Psychopath. PsychologyToday. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201810/7-characteristics-the-modern-psychopath
- Pappas, S. (2013, May 2). Psychopathic Traits Seen in Children’s Brains. Livescience.Com. www.livescience.com/29261-psychopathic-traits-in-children.html
- Wanjek, C. (2015, January 28). Psychopaths’ Brains Don’t Grasp Punishment, Scans Reveal. Livescience.Com. www.livescience.com/49613-psychopaths-brains-punishment.html
- Whitbourne, S. (2016, November 26). Can We Identify Psychopathy in a Young Child? PsychologyToday. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201611/can-we-identify-psychopathy-in-young-child