Saltar al contenido

Signs of psychopathy in children

Signs of psychopathy in children

Many parents have probably wondered, even for a split second, if a child’s lack of remorse or empathy could be a sign of a much bigger problem. But no parent wants to imagine that their child could be psychopathic.

Fortunately, most children are not psychopathic, even if they may be indifferent or downright bad at one time or another.

Children who are psychopathic are often cruel and emotionless.

It is also important to remember that children are neither psychopathic nor or . Psychopathy is a continuum and some elements will be found to some extent in most children.

General presentation

Although the term psychopath is not an official diagnosis of mental health, it is used to describe a set of characteristics and behaviors that indicate that an individual is insensitive, indifferent, and misleading. In current psychiatric terminology, the pattern is generally known as antisocial personality disorder.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association included the condition «conduct disorder with insufficient features and without emotions» for children 12 years and older in its diagnostic manual DSM-5 . It is a serious disease that reflects interpersonal deficits. It can also be linked to harmful behaviors.

However, psychopaths are often misunderstood. They are often described as mass murderers in movies. The truth is that most psychopaths do not become serial killers. In fact, some psychopaths become successful entrepreneurs and business leaders.

One study estimates that about 3% of business leaders may be psychopathic. .


Researchers estimate that about 1% of the adult population can meet the criteria for psychopathy. Psychopathy is more common in men than in women, but it is not strictly a male disorder. .

However, because mental health providers do not use the psycho label, the exact numbers are not known. In any case, many of the diagnoses used in mental health treatment is they overlap with psychopathy.

Children who are numb and emotionless are often diagnosed with a defiant opposition disorder At a young age. Later, during adolescence, they can be diagnosed with conduct disorders, which involves a persistent pattern of violating the rights of others and disregarding basic social rules. .

As adults, psychopaths can be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. And, although the conditions overlap, they are not synonymous. Antisocial personality disorder is a personality-based diagnosis. Psychopathy is more of a behavior-based condition. .

Warning signs

A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Michigan suggests that the first signs of psychopathy can be seen in children up to 2 years old. Even at this age, they show differences in empathy and awareness.

The study asked the primary caregiver, the other parent, and the teacher / day care provider to assess the insensitive and emotionless behavior (CU) between 2 and 4 years on the following elements:

  • Your child does not seem guilty after misbehaving.
  • Punishment does not change your child’s behavior.
  • Your child is selfish / will not share.
  • Your son is lying.
  • Your child is cunning and tries to surround you.

The researchers followed these children when they were 9 years old. They found that children who had the most behavioral problems when they were young or preschoolers were more likely to have behavioral problems associated with psychopathy later in childhood.

A psychopathic child has traits similar to those of adult psychopaths.

The telltale signs of psychopathy involve a disregard for the feelings of others and a complete lack of remorse.


There is no single test that indicates that a child may be psychopathic, but psychologists have several assessments to help them assess and measure a child’s symptoms.

One of the most used assessments is the Inventory of Psychopathic Traits for Young People (YPI). It is a self-reporting tool, which means that teenagers are tested and asked to answer questions about themselves. It is meant to measure personality traits rather than behavior. .

When YPI was tested on incarcerated and institutionalized young people, it proved to be quite reliable. The test assesses the following symptoms:

  • Dishonest charm
  • Grandiosity
  • Lying down
  • handling
  • insensibility
  • Lack of emotion
  • Repentance
  • Impulsivity
  • The search for the thrill
  • Irresponsibility .

In addition, adolescents with extremely insensitive and emotionless characteristics are likely to join their antisocial colleagues and gang crime offenders.

It is important to note that children with high rates of psychopathy will not be pressured to break the law. Instead, leaders who influence other members of their group are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior.

Related to substance abuse

In both adults and adolescents, research has found that people who classify themselves as psychopathic traits are more likely to abuse substances.

Researchers suspect that the relationship is reciprocal, which means that people who tend to be impulsive and irresponsible are more likely to substance abuse . And substance abuse is more likely to lead to an increase in impulsive and irresponsible behavior.

Adolescent men who classify themselves as psychopathic traits tend to start using substances at an earlier age. They are also more likely to use a wider variety of drugs and are more likely to struggle with substance abuse issues in adulthood.

Stability of symptoms

Some researchers suggest that the traits of psychopathy remain stable throughout life, which means that a child who shows signs of psychopathy will likely grow up to have the same traits.

Other researchers suggest that psychopathy scores are likely to increase during adolescence. The search for sensations and impulsivity they are highest at this stage of life and can be a developmental problem, not necessarily pathological.

Studies show that children who tend to be insensitive and emotionless are more likely to become aggressive later in life. They are also more likely to commit crimes.

Without treatment, psychopathy is unlikely to improve over time. .


There is much debate about whether psychopaths are born or made. But researchers suspect it’s not such a clear issue. Instead, psychopathy is the result of a complex relationship between genetics, family dynamics, and life experiences. .

Early exposure to a dysfunctional environment is probably a factor in the development of psychopathic traits.

Children who have been physically abused, abandoned and separated from their parents are more likely to become psychopaths.

Poor parenting is also considered a factor. A parent with mental health problems or substance abuse or one with little contact with a child, for example, can never bond with a child. Children who have inconsistent caregivers may also not be able to successfully bond with an adult.

Studies show that adolescent male psychopaths are more likely to have been victimized at an early age. On the other hand, adolescent psychopaths are more likely to come from a dysfunctional setting, such as frequent changes at home.

Some studies suggest that children with insufficient characteristics and lacking emotion may be programmed a little differently. Their brains react differently to fear, sadness and negative stimuli. They also have difficulty recognizing the emotions of others.

Peer victimization can play a role. Children who are victimized by their peers are more likely to become numb and emotionless later in life.


For many years, psychopaths were considered intractable. But more recent studies suggest that symptoms can be improved with intensive treatments, tailored to the unique emotional, cognitive, and motivational styles found in children with a wide range of psychopathy.

Children with characteristics of psychopathy require specialized treatment. They do not respond well to the usual methods of discipline, because they seem unnoticed by the consequences and do not care if others are disappointed in their choices.

some residential treatment programs They offer reward-based interventions, which means that children must gain all the privileges based on good behavior. Studies show that these types of interventions can have a positive impact on children’s behavior.

Children can benefit from learning prosocial behavior, empathy, problem solving skills Yes recognition of emotions . Treatment often focuses on improving the child’s ability to cope with anger and frustration..

If you see signs that make you wonder if your child may be psychopathic, it is important to seek professional help. A pediatrician or mental health professional can help you assess, diagnose, and treat your child.

Although there are no specific medications to treat the symptoms of psychopathy, medications may be part of the treatment plan. Antipsychotic drugs such as risperidone have been discovered decreases aggression in children with conduct disorders. Mood stabilizers and other medications can also be given to help the child improve emotional disorder.

How to get help

If your child doesn’t seem to have empathy for others sometimes or lies from time to time, he’s probably not a psychopath. Instead, he is probably just a normal child who learns new skills and develops a better understanding of the world.

However, whether insensitivity and lack of remorse seem to worsen or is not just an isolated incident, talk to your pediatrician . Your doctor may want to recommend your child for a more comprehensive evaluation to determine if there are any other mental health, personality, or mental health issues. behavioral disorders in Game.