Over the past century, the study of human behavior has gained prominence. To this end, various scholars have formulated different theories that seek to explain how human behavior is developed from childhood to adulthood. One of the most influential theories in this regard is Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.
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This theory aimed at explaining how different behavioral tendencies are developed through various developmental stages in ones lifespan. Research indicates that ones personality plays a pivotal role in determining the behavioral characteristics an individual will exhibit. Similarly, there is a general consensus among behavioral scientists, which indicates that personality is developed from childhood and consists of biological and environmental influences.
This paper shall set out to explore and describe the causes and development of sociopathic tendencies in early childhood that would be carried into adulthood. This shall be achieved by analyzing various theories and performing a literature review of credible sources focusing on this issue.
Sociopathic Behavior development: A brief overview
Juvenile crimes have been on the rise over the past few decades. As such, most parents are concerned about sociopathic behaviors exhibited by children. In most cases, parents attribute these tendencies to defiance and aggression. However, research indicates that there is more to it than meet the eyes.
Johansson et al (2005) define sociopathic behavior as a product of personality disorders, which is characterized by total disregard for authority and social norms. From this definition, a sociopath can be described as a manipulative and exploitative individual suffering from long-term behavioral problems indicative of an antisocial personality disorder.
As mentioned earlier, sociopathic behaviors may result from biological or environmental influences during childhood and in most cases, individuals display these behaviors even in adulthood. Some of the common indicators of sociopathic behaviors include but are not limited to violence, aggression, sadism, vandalism, suicidal, and homicidal tendencies.
Causes of sociopathic behavior
According to Siegel and Senna (2004), biological causes of antisocial personality disorder in children include abnormal development of the nervous system and genetics. Results from the Texas Adaptation Project indicated that a person’s tendency to exhibit certain sociopathic behavior is to some extent innate.
The results conclusively suggested that sociopathic tendencies are inheritable. To support this statement, Pratt et al (2002) state that an average of eighty percent of all ADHD variations are transmitted genetically from the parents to the children. As such, a parent with antisocial behavior is more likely to pass the same to his/her children.
Siegel and Senna (2004) reiterate that in most cases (2/3), fathers of delinquent boys have criminal records and there is a high likelihood that if a father is a criminal, his sons may become criminals too. On the same note, research indicates that abnormal development of the nervous system may induce sociopathic behavior in children, which if not treated, may manifest in adulthood. For example, brain studies have suggested that there is a close link between abnormal secretion of serotonin and aggressive and impulsive behavior.
In addition, Johansson et al (2005) state that differences in brain functions may result in sociopathic behavior during childhood and later in adulthood. For example, the brain of a normal person react faster to emotional words such as love or hate than it does to neutral words such as house or car. However, the brain of a sociopath cannot effectively process these words. This means that a sociopath’s ability to process emotions is limited, which explains their apathy, callousness and lack of remorse towards others.
According to Erikson, childhood is the most important stage of personality development. The theorist argues that during this stage, a child learns how to interact and adapt to his/her environment by observing and emulating different influences. As such, a child brought up in a loving, trusting and caring environment will most likely develop these traits.
On the other hand, a child who observes violence, hatred and mistrust emulates these traits even in adulthood. In the oral-sensory stage (below 1year old), the child develops trust. As such, if parents are consistent, reliable and loving, the child will trust them and view socialization as a positive thing.
However, if the parents are unreliable, inadequate or harm the child, he/she develops mistrust and withdrawal tendencies characterized by depression, paranoia and in some cases psychosis. Depending on how children are treated during this stage, they may learn to trust their bodies and their urges or develop withdrawal tendencies due to mistrust.
If this is not changed at the early stages, it may develop into a sociopathic trait even in adulthood. For example, a person with trust issues developed during childhood may try to hide from others and may find it hard to establish meaningful relationships with others even during adulthood.
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On the same note, Pratt et al (2002) state that peer influence has been linked to the development of sociopathic behavior. The authors attribute this to the fact that most children (teens in particular) are concerned about their identity. As such, they are more likely to be influenced by peers as they try to fit in. as such, if children associate with criminals; they are most likely to develop criminalistics tendencies. The same applies to children who associate themselves with sociopaths.
Additionally, Johansson, Kerr and Andershed (2004) assert that while environmental factors that cause sociopathic behavior in children remain unclear, child abuse has been cited as being the most probable cause. Child abuses include an inappropriate home environment, use of corporal punishment, inadequate emotional bonding between children and their parents and domestic violence. A child who grows up in this environment is more likely to develop sociopathic traits and display them even in adulthood.
Discussion and conclusion
Rarely do sociopaths seek help at their own accord. As such, it is the duty of the parents to seek professional help whenever they observe antisocial tendencies in their children. According to Johansson, Kerr and Andershed (2004), antisocial personality disorders can be treated and managed effectively during childhood.
However, if the condition continues to adulthood, there is always the possibility that it will escalate thereby making an individual more dangerous to society. This paper set out to describe the factors that lead to the development of sociopathic behavior in children, which would continue manifesting even in adulthood. Using specific theories and a review of relevant literature, it has been revealed that genetics and environmental factors are the main cause of this antisocial personality disorder.
The characteristics of a sociopath have been highlighted and explanations as to why children may develop sociopathic traits discussed. Due to the severity of the issue, parents and other caregivers should look out for various indicators and ensure that their children get the best care in order to avoid the situation from escalating during adulthood.
Johansson, P., Kerr, M., & Andershed, H. (2005). Linking adult psychopathy with childhood hyperactivity-impulsivity-attention problems and conduct problems through retrospective self-reports. Journal of Personality Disorders, 19, 94-101.
Pratt, T. C., Cullen, F. T., Blevins, K. R., Daigle, L., & Unnever, J. D. (2002). The relationship of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to crime and deliquency: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 4, 344-360.
Siegel, L. J., & Senna, J. J. (2004). Essentials of criminal justice (4th ed.). New York: Wadsworth.