It’s a good thing to know that people can change if they are exposed to right conditions. Philosophers like John Locke suggested, human beings are born like “blank slates,” anything written on these slates in their childhood can be changed. A similar theory was laid by famous psychologist William James, who felt that a person’s personality wasn’t formed fully until the age of 30. But, if we consider the findings of the 2016 research work of Rebecca Waller and colleagues, the first signs of psychopathy may be visible in children as small as 2 years old.

The psychopathic disposition or antisocial behavior in many,,can be usually traced back to their early years. People who have known them could see it coming many years ago. They can relate incidents like bullying other kids, abusing helpless animals, and stealing. Actually, such things are said when people see the psychopath in the present condition and then try to link the past incidents with what he or she may be today. It would be easier to arrive on the correct conclusion, if we start examining the incidents of the past for psychopathic tendencies and then analyze if those tendencies became severe as the person moved towards adulthood.

To explain the meaning of psychopathy, most definitions are derived from Robert D. Hare’s two-factor model, which differentiates between Factor 1 — superficial charm. The shallow effect, lack of empathy, and manipulative — and Factor 2, no ability to show repentance or remorse, and behavior that is linked with lifestyle of criminality and impulsiveness that does not match the social standards. Both these trait can be marked in the juveniles — but, at what age?

The answer to this crucial question was found by Waller and her team. They studied a sample comprising of 731 kids aged 2 years. They studied the kids for two things — Callous-Unemotional (CU) pre-psychopathic behavior of low levels of empathy and guilt, and general absence of concern for others. However, the researchers did not take into consideration the entire socio-economic scale and the representatives belonged to the lower economic group who were already exposed to several risk factors.

The research team asked the teachers, the primary parent and the other parent to rate their child on Deceitful-Callous (DC) to evaluate both the tendency to show no concern or feelings for others and the tendency to speak lies. (The CU evaluations in other, similar studies didn’t ask parents and teachers for ratings of deceitfulness.)

The DC scale included these five questions:


Child shows no signs of remorse after misbehaving.

Punishment has no effect on behavior.
Child is selfish and won’t share.
Child speaks lies.
Child is sly and tries to get around me.

The behavior problems in kids were shown by items like fighting with other children, destroying toys as well as other objects, and temper tantrums.

The study was designed in a way that separated behavioral difficulties from personality. This is a very important point as this allowed the researchers to keep the fact out of consideration that those kids who get themselves into trouble as kids continue to do the same when they grew older.

The results showed that the toddlers, who scored high on the DC scale, by age three, grew into children with major behavioral problems. This was an important prediction much more than the implications of earlier behavior foretelling later behavior. The DC ratings given by mothers of their kids at the age of two were strong enough to predict future behavior issues. By the time the child reached age three, the DC ratings given by teachers and other care givers became dependable predictors as well.

It is only logical that the person who holds the primary responsibility to care for the child would read the problems quite early in the child’s life than anybody else. Those who don’t come in close contact with the child may dismiss the disruptive behavior as indications of the “terrible twos,” a problem that may become serious, but not threatening, if it doesn’t become too severe.

The authors of this research paper are of the view that their work can help in preventing children from going into psychopaths and anti-socials. Since, the signs can be identified very early; teachers and parents can take measure to cultivate in them more emotional, positive and pro-social ways of connecting with other around them. The interventions have to be introduced in every aspect of the child’s life. The authors clearly state, “parental characteristics, attitudes, care giving practices, and the broader family ecology” (p. 1817) should be considered when isolating the risk factors and then making changes to the child’s living environment to increase his or her chances of overcoming the traits in the personality that will lead to grave problems in the future.

Thus, we can say that a future psychopath can be spotted as soon as a child’s personality begins to take shape. The parents can identify as early as age two and by the age of three, other people around the child can read the signs. However, this knowledge can be used to change the path of a child’s development.


Copyright @The Minds Journal
All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.