Monday, June 19, 2017

When Your Child Is a Psychopath

A reader writes:

I’ve been keeping you in mind, particularly since lately I see more and more nuanced discussions of psychopathology cropping up. Paul Bloom’s ‘Against Empathy’, though I haven’t yet read the full book, is a particular point of interest for me. But I found out today that The Atlantic had published this article very recently, and I wanted to share it:

What stands out for me in this situation is the fact that the girl, Samantha, is adopted; I know that children who have been abandoned or through the foster system face greatly increased hardships in their development, which is something I find deeply troubling on a social level. It seems to me that whatever harmful antisocial traits Samantha has may have been exacerbated by past trauma, even as early as her infancy.

Anyway, if you’re so inclined, please read it, and I hope you can take away something useful from it!

Incidentally, concerning the earlier stuff I mentioned about anime - have you ever heard of PSYCHO-PASS (yes, the title is in all caps)? It’s a speculative science fiction series specifically about psychopathy and preemptive judgment in criminal justice. You might find it interesting.

One of the more interesting things for me in the article was this paragraph on low resting heart rate (mine is always just barely hitting 60 beats per minute):

Psychopaths not only fail to recognize distress in others, they may not feel it themselves. 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.

And regarding the ineffectiveness of punishment or bad experiences in terms of modifying behavior:

Faulty brakes may help explain why psychopaths commit brutal crimes: Their brains ignore cues about danger or punishment. “There are all these decisions we make based on threat, or the fear that something bad can happen,” says Dustin Pardini, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of criminology at Arizona State University. “If you have less concern about the negative consequences of your actions, then you’ll be more likely to continue engaging in these behaviors. And when you get caught, you’ll be less likely to learn from your mistakes.”
This insight is driving a new wave of treatment. What’s a clinician to do if the emotional, empathetic part of a child’s brain is broken but the reward part of the brain is humming along? “You co-opt the system,” Kiehl says. “You work with what’s left.” 

The article also talks optimistically about the possibilities of treatment, with this caveat:

No one believes that [the boys in treatment] will develop true empathy or a heartfelt moral conscience. “They may not go from the Joker in The Dark Knight to Mister Rogers,” Caldwell tells me, laughing. But they can develop a cognitive moral conscience, an intellectual awareness that life will be more rewarding if they play by the rules. “We’re just happy if they stay on this side of the law,” Van Rybroek says. “In our world, that’s huge.”


  1. The Atlantic article was reposted on SBS and I came across it there. Worth reading, especially to see some outcomes of creating a positive reinforcement - based environment.

    "And out of that comes a social imperative - genes do indeed seem to play a role in our less desirable behaviours. But what knowledge of those genes keeps teaching us is that we have that much more of a responsibility to create environments that interact benignly with those genes."

    ~ Robert Sapolsky, Of Mice and (Hu)Men Genes, Monkeyluv

    "I see more and more nuanced discussions of psychopathology cropping up. Paul Bloom’s ‘Against Empathy’"

    On a similar note, more from Sapolsky (my current fave thinker)apparently arguing that "Empathy – feeling someone’s pain – is not as likely to lead to useful action as dispassionate sympathy, or “cold-blooded kindness”. " ... a sentiment that has been resounding in these halls for some time.

    Some more cool stuff from him:
    Are humans just another primate?[VIDEO - lecture - 1hr 16min]

    1. The term “psychopathology” basically refers to the methodical learning of mental illness, alongside with the features which may give or be relevant to such disorders. Really very interesting thing you explaining here about Psychopaths which is motivate students of our consultancy Personal Statement Folks where they are come to receiving well design personal statement on psychology - from personal statement experts who will assist students to design their personal statement including their academic journey. Thanks.

  2. Interesting article, just 1 major flaw, but it is with all articles of degrees of ASPD. They only study criminals and those in mental institutes. They admit less than 20% head down that road, so why do the rest get lumped in with those. I have been given this diagnosis, and am hyper-aware of the good/evil aspect of actions. I do not want the attention of the bad behavior so I avoid it when prudent. I am not a criminal, do not consider myself insane, and do not have bodies locked in my basement. So why is all the research regarding this diagnosis on the criminal and insane. Totally biased.

    1. Probably because it is extremely easy to work with prisoners, but kinda hard to not only find other psychpaths, but making them taking part in your study aswell. Finding enough people for a valid study ist expensive. If you not only search for people who probably got better stuff to do, but aswell for a more or less rare personality... that's really really hard.

    2. Also because they're still arguing amongst themselves as to whether you 'ought to' classify someone as psychopathic if they're not a violent criminal. Conveniently, that makes it a bit tricky searching for that other 80% to participate in research. Which then confirms the researchers' bias.
      Why bother getting involved with all that if there's something better to do. Like watch paint dry.

    3. @unknown. I completely agree with the fact that most studies are problematic due to limited sample. Especially seeing, as you say, that the predominantly use criminals. Hare is a prime example, and we are stuck with his highly bigoted checklist.

      I am curious though. You actually think of actions or anything as good/evil? That's so odd to me. I am aware that some actions may be socially unacceptable, and I have to be more mindful of when to act them. But to think of things as evil or good, I just don't get.

    4. I use the terms good / evil / right / wrong in terms of social response of my actions. Of course the correct definition is situational and personal, but I am aware of the area's laws and mores to prepare myself for the aftermath or consequences of any action. Avoidance of social outrage is often highly beneficial

      Poster formrely known as unknown.

    5. I use the terms good / evil / right / wrong in terms of social response of my actions. Of course the correct definition is situational and personal, but I am aware of the area's laws and mores to prepare myself for the aftermath or consequences of any action. Avoidance of social outrage is often highly beneficial

      Poster formrely known as unknown.

    6. " Hare is a prime example, and we are stuck with his highly bigoted checklist."
      Only if you choose to accept his definitions of the topic.
      PPI-R? MMPI-RF2? PAI? TriPM?
      Ignore the rabbit. Nothing will change until his stuff is discredited and ignored. No-one's going to do that for you but you.
      Social outrage is often highly beneficial.

    7. What could this be about, M.E.? You wouldn't describe yourself as maternal, either. I mean, you are a sociopath. Not maternal.

      "Today someone wanted me to feel bad. They were in an emotional bond that may or may not have been partially my doing. They cried in frustration and screamed in anger. Even after I walked away they continued to text for hours until I got tired of playing and blocked them.

      The whole situation was irritating for a very specific reason. You see I was very honest with this person that I wanted no connection and had no emotional attachment. I further had told them several times that I was not an emotional person, that I would not interact in drama.

      And yet here they were upset that I was not more maternal. Upset that I was not the perfect little cutie that wanted to cling and be clung too. Upset that their emotional outbursts received only boredom. I was the wind and it passed through me. They wanted pacified and pitied, but they should have known better.
      This brings up a very important idea about flies. The flies lie. They lie to us. They lie to themselves. The world they see is a world of lies. I do not even need to lie to them for them to believe the lies I do not tell them." Alcibiades Anon

    8. Hey Alcibiades Anon,

      I can see what you are saying.

      **-* is exactly like this. He thinks if I am emotional, I am necessarily trying to manipulate him.

      "The world they see is a world of lies. I do not even need to lie to them for them to believe the lies I do not tell them"

      I get what you are saying here too.

      The problem with neurotypical - psychopath interactions is the *completely* different predictive model. Neurotypicals relate emotionally with each other in very predictable ways. Psychopaths are simply act so far outside that model it is alarming and confusing and incomprehensible. That's why these situations escalate more than they might between two neurotypicals.

      They are not necessarily lies, and that pattern of behaviour is generally efficacious with other neurotypicals.

      There's always a reason people say anything. Remember psychopaths lie too, and I imagine it's always for a purpose, and I bet that purpose is often elusivity.

      There's an especial degree of imaginative cognitive empathy required for efficient relations between the types. Even with this, it's difficult because it requires more energy. And dammit, sometimes we need refreshment.

      There's a very distinct sense I have that **-* needs me to keep my hands where he can see them, to not make any sudden moves. He gets very antsy when he can't see what I'm doing. Even when he does his best to manage his reactions productively, it's as much a compulsion for him as the need of care is for me.

      Did someone here post Twenty One Pilots ~ Heathens previously? I can't remember but I feel like it hits the target.

      Nevertheless, I do think it's possible. One thing I'm learning personally is to value relationships. That's a good starting point.

      The person you are talking about simply can't imagine your internal experience and isn't receiving the signals that imply safety in his / her mind.

    9. @Alcibiades Anon,

      If I were the person you're talking about, I might hope you would forgive me and not close the door.

      Please consider the person's actual intent - he / she might have been trying simply to say you counted for them (I'm using **-*'s language) and were afraid they didn't count for you.

      There's so much signalling error.

      I'm way out on a limb here, but what "counts for" might mean in a very practical sense probably isn't so different between the types. It is experienced differently, though. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to be treated fairly, have good company, have sex, etc to some degree.

      It's just a suggestion, but there are other ways of handling things. Risky maybe. Worth it maybe.

    10. Clarification: when I say "hope you would forgive" I don't mean to imply he/she believes they've done anything wrong.

      I mean, I think there is often an over-attribution of intent to wound. That's not usually the motive, even if it is the outcome. It's a false positive bias (I can see the benefits of this bias, but it entails constraints.)

      Maybe consider neurotypicals as using a different system of rationality rather than as being illogical. "Get his logic, you get him."

      I'm presenting a different viewpoint and suggesting some perceptive levers that might be used to change outcomes.

  3. What am i ?
    Hi ! i am about to explain my life for the first time so if you can take some time from your day to read it would help. I don`t know how this site works or where to comment so i just choose the newest post i could see. So i wanted to ask a question, i have known for a while that i am not "normal" i don`t feel like others do and my empathy is non existing I am 17 at the moment and my childhood seemed normal exept for 1 thing i have a memory of sexual abuse as a kid. I don`t really feel empathy towards other people when my grandpa died i did not feel anything just numb i knew it was going to happen and when i heard the news i was like huh.At the funeral it was wierd everyone was emotianal and crying and i kept wondering what food i`d pick up on the way home. resently my friend had abuse at home and he had to live whit us for a while i tried to feel bad for him/help him but i could`t. I know i "should" have but instead i wanted him out off my house for it was bothering me because "it was my home" and i wanted to have piece and not constant human contact. I dont bond whit 98% of the people i meet and they are kind of irrelevant for me sure talking to them can be interesting at times but unless it offers something I find interesting I but if all the people from my school would die i would`t really care, its not like i want them to i just don`t care. People tend to bore me and i sometimes finnish the conversations inside my head because i don`t want towait for them to finnish their tought because I (mostly) always know what they will say.I have had some dangerous situations in my life like almost getting hit by a car, being treathned whit violence and it does not give me fear quite the opposite it can be exiting or mostly just something I don’t pay attention to. Only time I recall feeling of controll is some medical sittuations that give pain and it made me feel like I lost controll so I asume it was a feeling of fear which was weird becose I rearly feel anything “powerfull” but that’s pretty much the only thing I can think of most things in my life 99,9% wont give me emotional response. I lie allot and really whit out any emotions if helps me/gives me privleges. I am also often bored and i spend my times reading books/watching movies or just in my own toughts. Lately I have been wondering theese things more,we had 1 class in my school were we talked abaut empathy,morals etc. we did some test (obviously not accurate or anything) but I noticed my fistr impulse was always like would you kill 1 to save 5 I was like the only who would have done it it just seemed normal to me.Well its just logical you save more lifes meaby its nothing special tought but almost all of the results were well different for me than others. I know that thoose test are no where close to trustable or anything but it made me wonder.So I made a accaunt on Quara and its actually quite interesting to read abaut things like psychology. My way of coping whit people is by making “psychological profiles” out of them to understand their impulses and behaviour patterns to be able to predicts and cope whit them.But there is one profile i cant make which is myself.I see allot of people in the internet (Quara,forums etc.) self diagnosing as psychopaths or sociopaths because apperently its "trendy" or “cool” which is hard to comprehend i don`t see why mental condition would be cool to have. Plus i am still underage (18 in 2 months) so my brain development isn`t even finished so i don`t want to be one of those people who pronounce themselves whit some sort of diagnosis instead i am asking it here to have someone whit knowledge to explain/clarify it to me instead becose its interesting. If you read this thank you and I apoligize abaut my bad english. kindest regards!

    1. Don't let yourself be diagnosed. Read not only about being special, but ways to deal with it and function in this society. People apply negative connotations and call it a sickness.

    2. Your idiocy is actually annoying.

    3. It is not a diagnosis, it is your way of life, and only you are able to directangular it. It is no different than blindness, or your height. It is what you have to work with, make the most of it.

      Saying that...

      ASPD is a catch all medical diagnosis that you would probably fit in best. There is a whole spectrum of symptoms and behaviors so do not freak out if you research. Medically speaking it says you do not react with or to emotional cues as the medical community and society at large expect you to. There is no treatment, and the majority of the medical studies are on criminals and the diagnosed insane. There is an inherent legal bias to these diagnosis, but getting better on the childhood side of the spectrum.

      Legally, with this diagnosis and you commit a crime, or increasingly socially with all the new Internet educated psychology experts, you may be labeled a sociopath or a psychopath. These are no longer acceptable medical terms though they still are commonly used. Legally though they are used to mark you as different, a monster, an outsider, solely to sway a jury. Nobody has come up with a single definition that applies to all who have been labeled with those terms so I would not base a label from legal definitions.

      As I alluded to before. As with every other human on earth, you have your own unique view of your surroundings. You just appear to not be clouded with societies view of emotions. There is nothing wrong with you. As with those that are fueled by emotion, it is your actions that make you different, criminal, or a member of society. Some of us just have to work harder and smarter to fit in as we want. It is up to you to determine how to use your view point of the world.

      This is how I describe my self when forced

      I was diagnoses with ASPD by others

      Society has labeled me a sociopath

      I do not see myself as abnormal or in need of help. I have been this way as long as I remember. This is my life. I have adapted so nobody should be sticking their nose in my business. Yes I have a facade, but in my observation so does everyone else, mine just has to be better.

    4. Sorry about the auto edit.

      Only you are allowed to direct it...


    5. @"what am I"
      Just because you appear to be 'callous and unemotional' doesn't mean you're psychopathic. You'd need to be fearless [you say you are], but also: reckless, very self-confident, calm, stress- and anxiety-free, irresponsible, highly goal-oriented, charming, very unaccommodating, trust no-one, amoral, rule-breaking, very prone to boredom and with very high agency ie. a 'doer' not a talker. To the level of two Standard Deviations above the norm for your age and gender.
      One could be un-anxious and callous and have shallow fleeting emotions due to other things [maybe the child abuse] as a way of adapting to the trauma. Or just not be very emotional generally.
      Why not go into Quora and ask maybe Athena Walker or Peter Midgley about it; they're older people and will give you sensible responses.
      BTW if you didn't throw the man over the bridge to save the 5 people it would be a more utilitarian act nowadays seeing as the world has too many people in it currently. So allowing 5 to die instead of one is more useful, especially as the fat guy will probably die quicker than the average due to obesity. So six for none - what's not to like?

    6. Good points. I would also wonder: why do you care that those 5 people live? Why do you intervene at all?

      Answers to those questions and questions like it might not come up in the moment. But asking them after will help in figuring out what you are.

    7. Well i dont realy its not my issue but the dilema only has 2 options which i find that one more logical

  4. Interesting that someone cut and pasted my blog post here. Well i guess it means people read my blog, lol.

    @manicgeko that definition makes me feel more comfortable.

    Interesting take on what i had said about neruotypicals self deception. It is true that I am often unaware of people's internal interactions and they are obviously unaware of mine. Which I think is why I often spell it out, and find it helpful when others do the same.

  5. and thx for all the answers quite helpfull

    1. Many of us here blog or write about how we have learned to function. There are great resources out there. My book being one of many.


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