The prevention of sociopathy is something we all should be concerned about. Last week, we had an excellent discussion about sociopathy and lying. We all agree lying is the cardinal symptom of sociopathy, thanks to all those who posted comments. Your comments truly help those who are new to the site. Lying is part of the poor impulse control that sociopaths have. Poor impulse control or impulsivity and lying are recognized as central to sociopathy by every expert and diagnostic method. To prevent sociopathy we must start by preventing impulsivity. Unfortunately the brain structures responsible for impulse control are very sensitive to damage, especially early in life; although, damage to the frontal lobes can produce sociopathy at any age.
If I were given the option of one intervention that would reduce the prevalence of sociopathy in our society it would be to get all pregnant women to stop smoking both actively and passively (through second hand smoke). Although there are no direct studies of second hand smoke and sociopathy, second hand smoke is associated with an increased incidence of SIDS and other problems also linked to active smoking.
Where is the evidence that links maternal smoking directly to sociopathy? One of the largest studies to explore this link is reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, arguably the most reputable journal in the profession. In this paper Maternal Smoking During Pregnancy and Adult Male Criminal Outcomes (follow link to read it yourself) Patricia A. Brennan, PhD and colleagues report data obtained from 4169 males born between September 1959 and December 1961 in Copenhagen, Denmark. They conclude, “Maternal smoking during the third trimester predicted nonviolent, violent, and persistent crime even when controlling for parental, psychiatric hospitalization, pregnancy and delivery complications, mother’s use of prescription drugs during pregnancy, father’s criminal arrest, maternal rejection, mother’s age, and SES.”
In a recent review of 7 independent studies of the association between maternal smoking and antisocial behavior, published in the American Journal of Public Health (folow link to read it yourself) Lauren S. Wakschlag, PhD and colleagues discuss the magnitude of the problem. They calculate that more than 500,000 infants a year are exposed in utero to direct smoking. They further estimate that this exposure increases the risk of sociopathy 1.4-4 times. It is estimated that 3% of the general population is sociopathic. This estimate already includes those exposed in utero to tobacco. If we conservatively estimate that 6% rather than 3% of the 500,000 will develop sociopathy, smoking may produce 15,000 additional sociopaths per year!
The problem of maternal smoking may be even worse in other countries. One internet source reports, “In ex-socialist countries about 28% of women are smokers, in developed countries about 23% and in South America about 21% of all women.” If the stats from the US apply here, at least half of these women will continue to smoke when they become pregnant.
In the beginning of this article, I proposed that maternal smoking increases sociopathy by producing impulsivity/impairing impulse control. Although there are many good studies linking sociopathy with maternal smoking, there are even more studies linking maternal smoking with ADHD. ADHD is strongly associated with the development of sociopathy. Reviewing the relevant studies for my book, I estimated that adult sociopathy develops in about 25% of kids with true ADHD.
To see some data for yourself, read Effects of low birth weight, maternal smoking in pregnancy and social class on the phenotypic manifestation of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and associated antisocial behaviour: investigation in a clinical sample by Kate Langley and colleagues. They examined 356 British children who were patients at their clinic diagnosed with ADHD. In their sample, half of the mothers reported smoking during pregnancy! Maternal smoking was associated with impulsivity, conduct disorder and symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) even when other risk factors were taken into account.
That symptoms of ODD were related to maternal smoking is of particular interest to me because I have said that these symptoms are a sign of an excessive drive for social dominance in children. In my view it is the dominance drive, or power motive that produces the evil behavior of sociopaths.
The major developmental task of childhood is to learn to love and cooperate. To do so we must be able to exercise restraint over our dominance drive. If a child lacks the capacity to exercise this restraint, s/he is handicapped when it comes to learning to love and cooperate.
As a group of people who know first hand the devastation caused by sociopathy, I propose we all work toward the prevention of this disorder in any way we can. If you smoke, please quit. Stop financially supporting the tobacco companies and stop contributing to the problem of second hand smoke. Please also support anti-smoking legislation and government programs that encourage women and pregnant women not to smoke.