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Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy, meeting highlights: At-risk children

This weekend I am reporting from the 3rd meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy, where I also presented the results of the research Sandra Brown, M.A. and I did. In the next few weeks I will summarize the highlights of the meeting for you. One of the reasons I attended this meeting was to be sure the information we present to you on this website is up-to-date and accurate. Happily, I came away from the meeting confident, having had conversations with all the leaders in the field.

The problems of at-risk children were a major focus of the meeting. Many research teams are working on trying to measure problems with emotional processing in antisocial children. Before we can help children we have to come up with reliable ways to assess them.

At this point there is good evidence that “callous unemotional” traits can be identified in children above the age of 7. It is thought that these traits most predict who is at-risk for sociopathy/psychopathy in adulthood.

Researchers have shown what you parents already know. That is children with “callous unemotional” traits are very difficult to parent. They do not respond as well to the usual parenting. The major criticism I have of this work though, is their measures do not really capture what is going on in the private relationships between parents and at-risk children.

Research regarding the genetics of psychopathy was also presented. Dr. Essi Viding of University College London has an ongoing longitudinal study of twins, and is looking in detail at the genetics of antisocial behavior and “callous unemotional” traits. I spoke with her about her work. She wanted me to let you parents know that although there is evidence antisocial behavior and “callous unemotional” traits are genetic, “Environment is still important, don’t lose hope.”

Dr. Viding was aware prior to our conversation that the popular press and fringe groups have misconstrued her research as declaring that psychopathy is 100 percent genetic. She was emphatic in her assertion that the evidence points to genes and gene environment interactions in the development of the disorder and in the expression of behavioral problems during childhood.
Dr. Viding also wants parents “not to blame themselves.” Since the genes which place a child at-risk make him or her resistant to the usual parenting techniques. Many parents of at-risk kids aren’t parenting any different than anyone else.

There are still no solid answers about what will best immunize at-risk children against the development of sociopathy/psychopathy. But, having been at this meeting, I stand behind what I wrote in Just Like His Father? Focus on helping your child learn to love, have impulse control and moral values. There was no argument that these are the areas that at-risk children need to work on.



8 Comments on "Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy, meeting highlights: At-risk children"

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  1. passingthrough says:

    Dr. Leedom, my understanding is that you believe that parenting can have a positive effect on the outcomes of children who have a genetic predisposition toward several conditions, including psychopathy. What evidence has led you to this conclusion?



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  2. dsch says:

    One three-year intervention (behavior plus methylphenidate) did not reduce adult criminality in hyperactive 6-12 year olds with conduct problems when they were adults. The author suggested that earlier intervention is necessary but even that may be insufficient. I suspect that the most critical intervention period is probably prior to the age of 3.

    The ref is: Satterfield et al., A 30-Year Prospective Follow-up Study of Hyperactive Boys With Conduct Problems: Adult Criminality, J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 46:5, MAY 2007



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  3. OxDrover says:

    Thanks, Liane! Looking forward to more reports!



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  4. Glinda says:

    Thanks Dr Leedom. I always appreciate reinforcement that I can steer my sons the right direction…that their future is not absolutely predetermined by their gene pool.



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  5. James says:

    Thank you very much for allowing us to be current on this subject. I have received a post that talks about this issue and wanted to share it with LoveFraud. I will not give names but will replace it with only the first letter of the person being discussed.

    Comment from Dating Psycho.com

    numberthree is really I believe to be C who is J wife or possibly his current wife. J is D’s ex husband.

    7/20/2008 @ 03:04:25 PM – numberthree – I know firsthand the effects of leaving her first two children has caused them and all around them. Her daughter now 21 1/2 and pregnant with her second child is her mother incarnate – only having seen her mother about four times in her life genetics sure messed her up – the daughter ACTS and LOOKS exactly like D, right down to the lying and strealing and using Crocodile tears and saying what you want to hear to make you happy at that moment. Now the daughter, the ONLY daughter born to D has tried to pass off her first son on the father of this second one (race being a factor here) – why would he complain he’s been getting what he wants! Sound familiar JIM? I was once told about the daughter do not believe anything that first comes out of her mouth it will be a lie – and if that wasn’t the truth. The daughter Demands attention – even over her son – she has said OUTLOUD after everyone would coo about her son WHAT ABOUT ME, WHAT ABOUT R——? Now getting pregnant again, she is getting attention – but what happens when this one is born? For the past 6 1/2 years I have had to watch this female in action – getting attention – and nothing ever her fault – lying, stealing, SLEEPING around for heroin – habitual runinng away – to ruin our holiday, birthday, anniversary, anything that wasn’t about HER. Now as for D’s firstborn a son – A major alcoholic 23 1/2 years old – big on buying his friends getting his attention by buying it – and drinking it – and again nothing is his fault – always around guys but for the one female to fake his sexuality – he hates females – only nice when he needs something like to borrow a car. NOW JIM, remember when we took D to court to get the child support that was NEVER paid, D being pregnant and YOU making smart a– little man that you are, comments? Do you really believe that last child is YOURS? You still haven’t learned anything. What poor you? You allowed your children to go through this HELL, why didn’t you get out like the first one did? 17 years and you are bitchin? Little, little man – yes, D is like a head taller than you. To think you left your first wife because she got pregnant and you didn’t want any children – what have you done to that child? You make me sick.

    My reply:

    2/24/2009 @ 05:15:14 AM – Jim – “I know firsthand the effects of leaving her first two children has caused them and all around them. Her daughter now 21 1/2 and pregnant with her second child is her mother incarnate – only having seen her mother about four times in her life genetics sure messed her up – the daughter ACTS and LOOKS exactly like D, right down to the lying and strealing and using Crocodile tears and saying what you want to hear to make you happy at that moment. Now the daughter, the ONLY daughter born to D has tried to pass off her first son on the father of this second one (race being a factor here) – why would he complain he’s been getting what he wants! Sound familiar JIM? I was once told about the daughter do not believe anything that first comes out of her mouth it will be a lie – and if that wasn’t the truth. The daughter Demands attention – even over her son – she has said OUTLOUD after everyone would coo about her son WHAT ABOUT ME, WHAT ABOUT R——? Now getting pregnant again, she is getting attention – but what happens when this one is born? For the past 6 1/2 years I have had to watch this female in action – getting attention – and nothing ever her fault – lying, stealing, SLEEPING around for heroin – habitual runinng away – to ruin our holiday, birthday, anniversary, anything that wasn’t about HER. Now as for D’s firstborn a son – A major alcoholic 23 1/2 years old – big on buying his friends getting his attention by buying it – and drinking it – and again nothing is his fault – always around guys but for the one female to fake his sexuality – he hates females – only nice when he needs something like to borrow a car. NOW JIM, remember when we took D to court to get the child support that was NEVER paid, D being pregnant and YOU making smart a– little man that you are, comments? Do you really believe that last child is YOURS? You still haven’t learned anything. What poor you? You allowed your children to go through this HELL, why didn’t you get out like the first one did? 17 years and you are bitchin? Little, little man – yes, D is like a head taller than you. To think you left your first wife because she got pregnant and you didn’t want any children – what have you done to that child? You make me sick.”

    My reply:

    Yes I remember that very well indeed. And I also remember how you lost your case. I can assure you my children are doing much better now and also to remind you that they are NO concern of your and anyone connected to D. To this day they want no contact with her or anyone who knows her. All you know is what is being told to you by people who know D but here the problem D is a pathological liar. Someone that couldn’t tell the truth if her life depended on it. Like the case you lost in court for back children support you tried to acquire for her, you would lost this case just as easily. Guess some people never learn? Anyway back to your questions. “Do you really believe that last child is YOURS?” Without a DNA test I will never to sure. D will sleep with anyone or thing that she believe will give her something in return like money a car and/or housing. Like all sociopaths they are very promiscuous and had numerous sexual partners. So no I don’t know or will know again until the child and I are tested to confirm if this child is my or not. Hope that will answer your question Numberthree. As for the size or tallest of D compare to myself I don’t see your point? I guess it is meant to “hurt my feeling?“ Well if so then who is really being a small person? But thanks anyway for the chuckles! As for making you “sick” I thank you for that as well knowing I must have hit a nerve someplace.

    I did have another child with S my ex wife and may I add my only wife. I take full responsibility for that and would ask forgiveness if I knew her whereabouts today. I don’t. S is a good and moral person who I know would make a good mother and caretaker. I never once worried about my son (who was adopted and with my blessing) because I knew he is with people who love and care for him. I lost my son due to my own immaturity and lack of insight. But I did go on to learn my lesson and never allow this to be repeated again which is why I have both of my sons with me today. Can D state this as well? I don’t believe so. In fact both of “my” children want nothing to do with D something she will have to live with for the rest of her life…

    Please come back and give us more information on D her family (what’s left of it) me and yourself as well. It’s always nice when people can share..

    “To think you left your first wife because she got pregnant and you didn’t want any children – what have you done to that child? “

    Not sure how any of this got so twisted but then anything from D “what’s her last name now” and you get twisted and thrown into some dysfunctional nightmare. My divorce with my only wife was mutual and no one got hurt from it. Wish I could say the same for anyone that dates a sociopath or someone as twisted and dysfunctional as yourself

    Have a great day numberthree and thanks again for your comments. It‘s always nice to talk with someone that know very little (I mean number3 that D and yourself spend little or no time together each one of you living your own dysfunctional lives) and yet will twist and lie for whatever reason you may have.

    My question to LoveFraud:

    Now R didn’t live with her mother and only saw them a couple times during their childhood but instead was raised by their father as was her brother. I guess my question is just how much does genes play a part with our children that we had with them? I have two boys that live with me and I see very little “traits” like their mother has in them. I for one really wish to know just how much genes vs. the environment play a part in our children lives and future as they grow into adulthood.



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  6. witsend says:

    It is good to know that research is still being done. My personal feelings is that the debate will continue nature/nurture. Research is done from the outside looking in. And so there will always be variables. A disorder as complicated as this might never be completely black & white 100%.

    Just reading personal stories of people who actually have survived and turned their lives around by trying to heal in the wake of the destruction of a sociopath, is something that is not defined clearly in the medical profession. It is a personal journey and everyones “story” might have as many similarities as well as differences. Maybe this is why support groups can be so helpful is because people can relate to one another and offer support as well as suggestions. However they also know through their own experiences that everything isn’t always black/white. Lots of grey areas exist. And what works for one person might not work for another and then another suggestion might be thrown onto the table.

    As a parent trying to parent a child with a mental illness and/or/personality disorder the obstacles at times can seem almost monumental. Parenting in general, particularly the teenage years can be very trying WITHOUT the exrta obstacles involved. As with childern whom have autism, mental retardation, ADHD, etc these children present to their parents different challenges.

    In order for any parent to feel like they are “succesfully” parenting their child they have to be in a place where they feel they are “effectively” parenting their child. Much of effective parenting falls to the wayside when trying to manage a child with these disorders.
    To put it simply:
    In my own personal day to day life the only time things can be on an “even keel” and not in a state of CONSTANT turmoil in our house is when I back off…..COMPLETELY. No consequences, no boundaries and no rules to follow whatsoever. Of course this doesn’t work either it just lessons turmoil.

    A child with these disorders doesn’t have the same “currency” to use the phrase Dr. Phil often uses. I’m not sure if there is any currency that would work. The usual punishments a parent might resort to at different “age” appropiate ages doesn’t work. Such as being grounded or certain privilege restrictments. Positive “gains” for positive behavior/actions doesn’t work……And most everything inbetween hasn’t worked.
    So much of the problem becomes compounded. And becomes a vicious cycle.
    If an adolescent lies more than they tell the truth, and your trying to pick your “battles” what lies constitute confrontation and what lies do not? And by not confronting the lies in general, (every ONE of them) as a parent it feels like your condoning them. If every single conversation that you have with your teenager involves a lie (of some sort, even very unimportant things? don’t even understand that), then every conversation would have to include confrontation of a lie. It is as if your child has forgotten how to tell the truth.
    And when manipulation is happening (both subtle and not so subtle) on a daily basis…..Throw in the rest of the disturbing behaviors, along with some “regular” teenage defiance and it becomes very UNCLEAR as a parent, what TO DO.

    My son did not display these disturbing personality traits until he was about 15 years old….I never “eased” into having to parent a troubled child.
    Although he was not my “easy” child (strong willed & VERY stubborn) our relationship was close, loving, and everything seemed pretty “normal”. And at 12 years old he seemed like any other 12 year old…Didn’t see any signs of what was coming ahead.
    When troubling personality changes began to present themselves though, at around 15 years of age, they escalated very quickly.

    The same problems that might exist in an adult relationship with a person who exibits an anti social personality disorder/mental illness, regardless of the nature of that relationship, (wife, husband, boss, co worker) also exist when raising a child with these disorders. The lies and manipulation, lack of emotions, are still there regardless that they are administered by a child/adolescent.

    A parent has very few places to get any answers they might need. Therapy is a good place to start but often takes time. Time that as a parent dealing with these things on a daily basis you feel like time is not in your favor. Sometimes you need to make immediate decisions. And you question EVERY single choice you make along the way as you haven’t had alot of good results in the past. EVERY single day of my life one of my biggest accomplishments might be only to get my son out of bed to go to school. Not a big accomplishment when all things considered, I can no longer get him to take his medications, or, tell the truth, or any of the other things I might face as a parent in a day. Yet at the end of the day sometimes it is all I have succeded in.

    When I read the really horrifing stories. Where VERY young children are displaying very extreme behaviors. Starting fires, killing household pets, trying to kill siblings/parents…..The bone chilling stuff. And people sit back and somewhat “judge” these parents for giving up….I don’t know….These kind of cases…..The extreme cases….I think its hard to pass judgement. Especially not knowing all the “particulars”. I mean as a parent none of us ARE equiped to know how to keep “Johnny” from smothering his sister “Susie” are we?

    If the judicial system & jails, probation officers, etc deals with sociopath individuals on a daily basis and they haven’t figured out that these people pose a real threat to our society and should NOT be let out on parole….It is my understanding that much of the research done on sociopathic behavior at least early on, was done done in prisons. So I find it somewhat mind boggling that until more recently alot less attention was given to research on children that display these tendancys.



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  7. Jim in Indiana USA says:

    witsend…if I found myself in your position, I don’t think I’d handle it as well, and rationally, even able to be describing it, as you do. Your son, however it turns out, has someone who cared…to the limit.

    I wish I had answers or suggestions. Take care of youself when you can.

    Prayers and hope for the best is all I have for you. Miracles happen.



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  8. James says:

    To my knowledge concerning my ex p/s children, I know she had very little influence and little direct contact with these children. But I was also informed about her ex husband drug habit. That the father was the primary caretaker in raising them due to her losing custody with only supervised visitation rights. He did have very good role models growing up but I also learned that he was adopted and these were not his biological parents. For me this raises some very interesting questions. With the mother that showed anti-social traits early in her childhood and the father’s drug abuse which would cause a very dysfunctional life style which one played the major cause for these children to grow up with all these issues in their early adult lives. We (the ex s/p and me) did spend some time with her daughter and therefore I did witness some behavior that was very self-destructive. One was stealing her grandfather’s new car. As well to what other told us about her running away drug use and being very sexually promiscuous when only in her teens. How can anyone expect a child to grow and mature when both parents are themselves psychologically in need of assistances? How then can one see it as genetically then added with a dysfunctional life style impose by an addictive parent? Which part had the most influence with both of these children? And did these two children ever have a chance? I do know that children need a stable safe loving environment to grow in and if this doesn’t happen then we do see more drug usage and acting out in social setting.



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