Monday, June 19, 2017

When You're 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: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/06/when-your-child-is-a-psychopath/524502/

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.”



12 comments:

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  2. 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]

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  5. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article.

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  6. 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.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    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.

      Delete
    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.

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