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Psychopathy Development in Children Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 11th, 2020

Psychopathy denotes a form of personality that defines people who exhibit a marked lack of compunction, culpability, and sympathetic concern for others (Briley & Tucker-Drob, 2014). Children who become psychopaths seem to have no psychological distress and are unreceptive of the suffering of other people. Moreover, they are seemingly captivating, manipulative, self-centered, grandiose, have a tendency of being risk-taking and whimsical, and do not make plans. Such children show antisocial conduct and lack of behavioral management. People with psychopathy are exceptional as they express an augmented risk for instrumental (predatory, goal-propelled) and reactive hostility. This proposal will seek to explain whether nurture or nature (or both) contributes to children becoming psychopaths

Statement of the Problem

The causal factors of psychopathy remain puzzling. Most studies do not even have a satisfactory resolution to the inquiry of whether children become psychopaths as a result of nature or environmental impacts in the course of upbringing (Boccio & Beaver, 2016). Although just a few hundred mutations happen in the process of the early development of the fetus, they have a likelihood of multiplying with time, thus resulting in enormous hereditary variations. This leads to the likelihood of psychopathic attributes being mostly heritably determined. Nevertheless, researchers affirm that psychopathy does not appear genetic, and has its foundation in biological aspects associated with fundamental psychological systems since mature psychopaths do not demonstrate a whole set of prosocial sentiments such as remorse, compassion, and the capacity to take care of others. Though studies affirm that psychopathy is genetic, they do not provide adequate information to show that its causes are inherited. In this regard, it appears that psychopathy is mostly a product of nature, while sociopathy is influenced by environmental conditions, nurture.

Though environmental influences have a role in children becoming psychopaths, their impact is different from that one of other individuals with antisocial inclinations. Psychopathy is currently more common than it was earlier thought, as it affects over 0.6% of the population across the globe (Boccio & Beaver, 2016). It is apparent that psychopathy does not result in criminal behavior or extreme brutal conduct. Its incidence around the world was in the past considerably underrated since it was diagnosed just in individuals who had already exhibited severe conducts, whereas most psychopaths do not. Since there is no successful hereditary or medical assessment so far, psychopathy is still diagnosed with respect to the conduct and the consideration of other factors.

Aims, Objectives, and Justification

This paper aims at establishing the reason behind children becoming psychopaths with the objective of determining the most effective means of tackling the issue. Psychopaths may be identified by their malfunction of the ‘startle reflex,’ a problem of the nervous system’s reaction to images or occurrences that have a terrifying or shocking effect, for instance, photos of a decapitated cadaver. Such responses have been identified even in the psychopaths who have never engaged in violent behavior and actually lead ordinary lives (Boccio & Beaver, 2016). They can as well be applied in the determination of psychopathy in children who show similar indications, especially pathological deceit, lack of compassion, an inclination to aggression, and failure of the startle reflex. A wide pool of studies has offered proof of inheritance playing a role in children becoming psychopaths.

It is evident that psychopathy is more widespread in boys when judged against girls. It has been affirmed that when male psychopaths mature, they have a likelihood of having many relationships that do not last for long and may express a seductive charisma—the impact of evolution results in the survival of people under dissimilar environmental situations. In a given condition, it could be adaptive to be supportive and concerned while in other situations, it could be beneficial to exploit and remain unsociable. Irrespective of their influence in psychopathy, genes have no impact on one’s decisions as they are not accountable for people’s behaviors. No genetic material is either essential or enough to influence a child to elevated rates of psychopathic attributes, and for that reason, the responsibility of offending others lies squarely in environmental factors (Briley & Tucker-Drob, 2014). The offensive nature of psychopaths arises from the influence of the surrounding environment in such a child’s formative years. In this regard, it is clear that both nurture and nature have a role to play in children becoming psychopaths.

Research Questions and their Relevance to the Problem

  • Is psychopathy a product of nature or nurture?
  • Does psychopathy cause social problems?
  • Which is the best intervention for psychopathy?

Genetic influence and environmental conditions have a crucial role in the development of psychopathy in children. The influences of the surroundings encompass the absence of the father, dejected mother, housing in bad condition, rejection by friends, and abandonment. A psychopathic effect in a child could be alleviated through ensuring a caring and stable background. Apart from psychopaths lacking empathy and remorse, they are also easily agitated, which results in social challenges. Psychopaths could actually have similar emotions and compassion as their healthy counterparts, but pay little consideration to such feelings (Briley & Tucker-Drob, 2014). With respect to the treatment of psychopathy in children, it has been established that the most suitable therapy relies on the fundamental personality inclinations. Psychopaths do not react suitably to punishment since they cannot link it to any of their actions as they do not consider what they do morally wrong. Nevertheless, psychopaths have been seen to respond suitably to rewards.

A Brief Preview

Through carrying out primary research with the help of an interview and questionnaire (Appendix A), this study will establish whether the development of psychopathy in children is caused by nature or nurture. It is vital to note that most of the individuals having antisocial inclinations are not psychopaths, and psychopathy is amid the most difficult problems to find out (Boccio & Beaver, 2016). Some psychopaths may appear normal and even charismatic; however, underneath, such individuals lack conscience and compassion, which makes them violent, controlling, and usually (not at all times) criminals.

Review of Existing Literature

In the course of the past decades, concern and awareness of the experiential and theoretical applicability of the issue of psychopathy in children has increased rapidly (McAdams et al., 2017). Powerful connections involving psychopathic personality attributes with antisocial conduct and aggression in grown-ups have elicited research for enhanced comprehension of the condition. Researchers are optimistic that the concern of psychopathy might assist in the identification of particular groups of youth having severe behavioral issues, who will have the psychopathic disorder in their adulthood. It is affirmed that the prevention of serious negative outcomes linked to psychopathic disorder could be facilitated by early detection of the characteristics as efforts to assuage and treat psychopathy in grown-ups have been previously unproductive. There has currently been inadequate research on the influence of nature (genes) and nurture (environment) on the development of psychopathic attributes in children.

Genetic aspects have a considerable role in children becoming psychopaths. Nevertheless, socialization coupled with other environmental aspects interrelate with genetics, which makes it evident that genes are not the only determining factors in the development of psychopathic attributes. Research studies on the genetic influence on psychopathy have centered mainly on monozygotic twins (with similar genes) and dizygotic twins (sharing half of the genes). A study that evaluated the inheritance of psychopathic traits in twins affirmed that genes represent about 50% of the difference in the psychopathic attributes (Dishion, 2016). Other researchers have demonstrated considerable heritability of features of psychopathy when examined with the application of self-report practices.

If psychopathy is hereditary determined, some abnormalities in the brain should be anticipated, the instantaneous basis of psychopathic attributes. Scans of the brain show that when psychopathy develops into criminal conducts, there is reduced association involving the amygdala (a subcortical brain structure that acts on negative stimuli) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (a section of the prefrontal cortex in the brain of human beings that deduces the reactions from the amygdala). When the relationship involving the two sections is poor, understanding the negative effects in the amygdala fails to develop into a powerfully felt off-putting sentiment (Beaver, Hartman, & Belsky, 2015). This demonstrates the depiction of the sentiments of psychopaths as they neither feel worried nor mortified the moment they are caught in the wrong. They do not get a sad feeling when they see others suffering. Though they may suffer physical pain, they do not experience psychological disturbance.

Studies have established an association between brain defects and criminal psychopathy (Tuvblad, Bezdjian, Raine, & Baker, 2013). Since such brain defects in most instances of psychopathic criminals are not suddenly acquired, there is a reason to believe that it is based on the psychopath’s genetic material. However, the limitation of such studies is that they are anchored in just criminal psychopaths, and not all individuals with psychopathy are felons. Future research should seek to establish whether, similar to the case of the criminal psychopaths; there is a poor connection between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in their non-criminal counterparts. The majority of psychopaths are manipulative, violent, or capricious, and such attributes do not necessarily result in criminal conduct. A different aspect that future research should address is the failure of existing studies to demonstrate that reduced activity involving the vmPFC and amygdala represents an abnormality particularly associated with psychopathy instead of a scope of psychological conditions that have been connected to serious criminal activities, encompassing extreme sexual fetishes and schizophrenia with paranoia.

There is a possibility that the hereditary and environmental conditions that sway a given character or attribute differ with age. For instance, behavioral hereditary studies have affirmed that the heritability of both general traits and cognitive capacity rises in the course of natural life while the impact of the environment reduces from moderate in the course of childhood to insignificant after teenage years. This shows that the environmental and hereditary factors result in psychopathic personality attributes varying with a person’s continued development, which makes age an evident probable moderator. Though studies have established that psychopathy has a high prevalence in males, there is inadequate research on whether gender dissimilarities influence hereditary and environmental variation of psychopathic personality characteristics (Tuvblad et al., 2013). In this regard, future research should seek to examine whether the fundamental environmental and hereditary aspects of psychopathic attributes are alike in both girls and boys irrespective of the gender differences in prevalence.

Psychopathy is mainly an object of popular appeal and medical grief; it is highly resistant to treatment. Shockingly, the majority of people do not know anything regarding the disorder, and if they do, they think just with respect to aggressive psychopathy, serial killers, and slayers, individuals who break the law in numerous instances, and who, if arrested, they may serve long jail terms, life imprisonment, or even death penalty. On this note, there is a need to offer suitable interventions early with the purpose of preventing children having psychopathy from turning out to be hardcore criminals in their later life (Beaver et al., 2015). The most suitable intervention for psychopathy is mainly reward based where children receive an award for striving toward the attainment of their behavioral targets for a given period, for example, one week.


Research Design

This study will carry out a primary method of data collection and a qualitative technique of analysis. The participants will be sourced from Kings County in the United States and the study will be done in one of the nearby schools. The twins and triplets will be recruited majorly from the local schools in the County or the community.


The total sample for the study will comprise of about 600 sets of twins and triplets between the age of 9 and 11 years, as well as teachers in grade 3 to 5. To start with, the researcher will send written appeals to approximately 700 mothers with young twins or triplets and 60 teachers who teach in grade 3 to 5 in learning institutions across the county. While contacting and inviting the interested families to take part in the study, the researcher will ensure that the racial distribution of the appeals is comparable to that of the entire county in an effort of offering a diverse society sample, which will be representative of the entire region both racially and socio-economically. The exclusion criteria of the participants will be either less than 9 years or above 11 years of age (for the children), the unavailability of any of the children in a set or their mother, or teaching in other grades and not 3 to 5 (for the teachers). The respondents who will satisfy the inclusion criteria will form the overall sample for the study.

Data Collection

In the written invitation, the mothers and the teachers will be informed of the school in which they will meet for about 3 hours of participation in the study. The information gathering methods that will be applied in this study will be a questionnaire and interviews, which will consider both comprehensiveness and profoundness of data pertaining to the development of psychopathic traits in children. This study will just be based on the information provided by the teachers and mothers. The mothers and teachers will be offered a questionnaire to fill and later interviewed regarding the issue of psychopathy in children. Prior to issuing the questionnaire, the researcher will first enlighten the participants of the rationale behind the study and assure them of the protection of their confidentiality. After all is made clear, the research will give the participants a chance to ask questions before giving them an informed consent form (Appendix B) to read and fill. To avoid being overwhelmed by the tasks, the researcher will request three colleagues to assist in the study and adequately train them before the commencement of the study. The psychopathic personality attributes of the children will be assessed with the help of a Child Psychopathy Scale, an excellently validated instrument for assessing psychopathy in children and teenagers.

This study will focus on children within Kings County rather than a countrywide scope to ensure adequate time to refine every link from the intended family via visits and telephone calls where necessary to acquire plentiful information in the form of direct conversations and phone exchanges. The questionnaire (Appendix A) will contain open-ended questions to investigate the manner in which children become psychopaths and the most suitable approaches to addressing the problem. After completing the questionnaire, semi-structured interviews will be carried out to get a better understanding of the development of psychopathic traits in children and the aspects that enhance or hamper betterment of the behavior in children with psychopathy. Interviews and questionnaire will be the typical qualitative approaches for information gathering and the most extensively applied for obtaining information to pull together ideas and views regarding the issue. The researchers will tape record the interviews to ensure availability of information for future reference if required. The information held in the tape recorder will then be transcribed after completion of the interviews to enable effortless lookup for the needed data.

Ethics Statement

The name ‘psychopath’ may elicit frightening reactions in parents, particularly if they were not previously aware that their children had the condition. They could be worried that their children may later become murderers, remorseless, and unstoppable, as such behaviors are associated with psychopaths. To avoid such fears, the researcher will inform the parents that their children are at a prime age where the condition can be improved to make them responsible members of the community in their adulthood. The researcher will stress this point by asserting that psychopaths do not end up becoming unrepentant killers if the problem is tackled early enough. Psychopathic personality traits are extensive across the globe, and treating it early makes such children have a positive score on diagnostic criteria and become industrious and successful people in their later life.

Though psychopaths understand the difference between wrong and right actions, they may psychologically lack warning sentiments or proper conscience. Though they may have correct judgments concerning moral and legal infringements, they seem to lack significant aspects that stimulate people to act morally. In this regard, punishing such children is unethical, and the researcher will advise the parents/teachers to offer rewards as a way of motivating them to behave ethically. The researcher will uphold confidentiality in the study by informing the participants not to write their names or even sign on either the consent form or questionnaire. Every detail regarding the study will be explained to the participants before the commencement of the research.

Statement of Limitations

The limitation of this study is that many of those invited to take part in the study may choose to reject the request hence leaving the researcher with an insufficient sample for the study. To avoid such a scenario, the researcher will make use of phone calls to inform the parents and teachers invited to participate in the research that the study is meant for the good of children and the well-being of the community and the county at large. This will be a remarkable way of persuading their participation and preventing withdrawal at any point of the study.


Beaver, K. M., Hartman, S., & Belsky, J. (2015). Differential susceptibility to parental sensitivity based on early-life temperament in the prediction of adolescent affective psychopathic personality traits. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42(5), 546-565.

Boccio, C. M., & Beaver, K. M. (2016). The influence of psychopathic personality traits, low self-control, and nonshared environmental factors on criminal involvement. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 1(5), 41-52.

Briley, D. A., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2014). Genetic and environmental continuity in personality development: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140(5), 1303.

Dishion, T. J. (2016). Social influences on executive functions development in children and adolescents: Steps toward a social neuroscience of predictive adaptive responses. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(1), 57-61.

McAdams, T. A., Rijsdijk, F. V., Narusyte, J., Ganiban, J. M., Reiss, D., Spotts, E., & Eley, T. C. (2017). Associations between the parent–child relationship and adolescent self‐worth: A genetically informed study of twin parents and their adolescent children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(1), 46-54.

Tuvblad, C., Bezdjian, S., Raine, A., & Baker, L. A. (2013). Psychopathic personality and negative parent-to-child affect: A longitudinal cross-lag twin study. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(5), 331-341.

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