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Hannibal Lecter Unlocked: Scientists Determine the Age of Psychopathy Among Toddlers

Feb 27, 2017 08:56 AM EST
Hannibal Lecter
Psychopaths are generally described to be manipulative, dishonest and apathetic. However, the idea that they are also clever and smart - as often portrayed in television, isn't exactly true. In fact, studies are showing that in general, psychopaths have below-average intelligence.
(Photo : Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

New research from the University of Michigan suggests that signs of psychopathy can already be noticed and detected in children as young as two years old.

This is a very surprising twist of events, as famous psychologist William James posited that personality in a person fully develops at age 30. However, Rebecca Waller and her team offer a different insight towards developing personalities in toddlers.

The researchers analyzed data of 31 children and their mothers. Data was collected until the children were 9 and a half years old. The team then created the Callous-Unemotional (CU) pre-psychopathic behavior chart, which highlights particularly low levels of guilt and empathy -- important elements of showing emotions towards other people.

Meanwhile, they also asked the other parent of the child and teachers to rate the particular child on the Deceitful-Callous (DC) behavior. This assessed the child's propensity to lie and if the children in question do lack the ability to feel others. According to The Minds Journal, this was highlighted by some specific items such as being violent and having temper tantrums

According to Susan Whitbourne Psychology Today, people commonly refer to adults when the terms "antisocial" or "psychopath" are mentioned. The article mentioned instances of trauma such as bullying, abuse and petty crimes as signs of brewing mental disturbance.

In an introductory article about Psychopathy, Whitbourne notes psychologist Robert Hare and his two determinants of psychopathy: a somewhat mysterious charm and "manipulativeness" and a socially-deviant lifestyle.

This is why it was quite surprising for a research to show that these determinants can already be seen in toddlers. However, it was also important to consider that Waller and her colleagues did not account for the entire socioeconomic scale. This is because their participants were from low-income homes, meaning there is a potential for external risk factors.

Regardless, their research showed that children with high DC scales developed behavior problems as they grow up. It was also surprising that the DC ratings for children as early as two years old were good predictors of how they will grow.

Waller and her colleagues think their study can help "prevent" the growth of children into teenagers and adults with problems as these assessments may help therapists, teachers and even parents to develop a more positive attitude towards children.

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