Many have expressed doubt that a condition as complex as sociopathy can be genetic. The doubters aside, studies of identical twins separated at birth and raised by non-relatives do clearly show the condition is genetic. The question now is, “Just what is inherited?”
Genes interact with environment
Although sociopathy is genetic, it is not inherited in the same way as many other traits, for example, eye color. The genes that cause sociopathy do so by making a child vulnerable to certain environmental influences. A child can have the genes but if he is not exposed to the triggering environment, he will not develop the condition.
Fearlessness an important precursor to both sociopathy and addiction
Go to the park or to the town pool and watch young children playing. You will notice that a small percentage are completely fearless. These children will climb the highest trees or try to enter deep water even when they cannot swim. Furthermore, when they fall, get stuck up in the tree or nearly drown, they are completely unaffected by the experience! These are the fearless children.
An Iowa researcher has identified fearless children by their responses in the laboratory during the first year of life. She has followed them for years and has demonstrated that fearlessness predicts poor conscience formation. The reverse is also true: Fearfulness predicts good conscience formation.
The link between fearlessness, sociopathy and addiction is explained in detail in my book Just Like His Father? and is too long to explain fully here. However, this link has very important implications that parents have to know about.
Fearlessness means little or no response to punishment
Remember that fearless child who nearly drowned because he just had to “swim” in the deep end of the pool? Well, as soon as the lifeguard pulled him from the water, he wanted to go right back in! If nearly drowning has no affect on him, then his mother yelling, “Johnny, don’t do that!” has even less of an effect. Furthermore, Johnny also learns nothing when his parents spank him or yell at him for wrongdoing. Actually though, Johnny does learn something—he learns how to be aggressive.
Many parents of sociopaths raised their children in the usual way
Many, if not most, sociopaths received the same kind of parenting that the rest of the kids in our society received. The take home lesson is that the usual parenting doesn’t work with at-risk kids, and may make them worse. Since fearless children get into a lot of trouble, they are punished often. This punishment does not teach them “right from wrong,” instead it makes them callous and more aggressive. Studies of adoptive parents reveal that even nice, well-intending adoptive parents fall into this trap as a reaction to the child! The at-risk child himself elicits from his environment the very thing that increases his risk for becoming a sociopath!