Brain scans can identify psychopaths even in childhood because they have no empathy when seeing people in pain

Children who were aggressive or cruel had reduced brain activity in response to images of others in painDaily Mail – by RACHEL REILLY

Brain scans can be used to identify children who may be potential psychopaths, new research has shown.

Scientists have found that certain areas of a psychopath’s brain showed a reduced activity in response to images of others in pain.

The regions affected are those known to play a role in empathy, the ability to relate to other people’s feelings.

Scientists say the patterns could act as a marker to single out children at a risk of becoming adult psychopaths.  

A total of 55 boys aged 10 to 16 were assessed in the study.

Of these, 37 met the criteria for children with ‘conduct problems’ (CP) according to questionnaire answers provided by parents and teachers.

CP children display a plethora of antisocial traits including aggression and dishonesty.

Like the central character in Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, they can be callous and cruel.

Youngsters with conduct problems are not likely to follow in Kevin’s footsteps and commit a school massacre, but the research findings suggest at least some could grow up to be psychopaths.

‘Our findings indicate that children with conduct problems have an atypical brain response to seeing other people in pain,’ psychologist Professor Essi Viding from University College London said.

‘It is important to view these findings as an indicator of early vulnerability, rather than biological destiny.

‘We know that children can be very responsive to interventions, and the challenge is to make those interventions even better, so that we can really help the children, their families, and their wider social environment.’

About five per cent of children qualify for a diagnosis of CP, but little is known about the condition’s underlying cause.

Participants in the study underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans while being shown images of other people’s hands and feet in painful and non-painful situations.

Some psychopaths display disturbing symptoms from a young age, such the main protagonist in Lionel Shriver's book We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Some psychopaths display disturbing symptoms from a young age, such the main protagonist in Lionel Shriver’s book We Need to Talk about Kevin.

A distinct difference was seen in the brain responses of children with and without CP.

In children with conduct problems, brain activity in three key regions was reduced when looking at the pictures. They were the bilateral anterior insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the inferior frontal gyrus.

All are regions associated in previous studies with feelings of empathy for others in pain.

The scientists wrote in the journal Current Biology: ‘We show that callous traits in particular may underlie atypical neural responses to others’ pain in CP, which may represent an early neurobiological marker for later psychopathy.

‘It remains an empirical question whether empathic responding can be normalised in children with CP.’

Not all children with conduct problems displayed a vulnerability to psychopathy, the researchers stressed.

‘This raises the possibility of tailoring existing interventions to suit the specific profile of atypical processing that characterises a child with conduct problems,’ Prof Viding said.

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6 thoughts on “Brain scans can identify psychopaths even in childhood because they have no empathy when seeing people in pain

  1. On the surface this may look like some kind of scientific breakthrough, but there’s a dangerous, controlling side to it, and just the fact that they’ve identified 37 out of 55 kids as potential trouble-makers proves it’s already going too far.
    Who’s to decide how much empathy a child should show, how much empathy is developed as the child matures? Why do they assume these responses shown in childhood will still be persist into adulthood?
    This is flawed science form the beginning, and it was invented to discriminate against certain children who may or may not be “conduct problems” as they age, and it will allow governments to separate any potential dissenters as children, and educate them differently than the majority. At the very least it will be used to enforce conformity.

    The scientific community has become evil, or their greed has enabled evil people to control their research rather than scientific curiosity.

    1. Hey Jolly Roger, I’m fairly well versed in the behavioral sciences working in the field most of my life. I quit medicine when the realization of fraud in the medical field became so undeniable that I would not take part anymore. I thought this new scan would be helpful for identifying people who have no empathy for others pain. For instance, public service, banking, law enforcement could use the scan to identify the psychopaths needed to fill their ranks and weed out those that actually give a s**t. 🙂

      1. yes, I totally agree there is a good enough margin of error to say that the test are closer to being accurate than not so lets do it. Every public official elected or not has to have one of these done, now if we can get enough public officials to kamikazee themselves out of a job and pass such a bill that would be great. And why does WND have the security question below the “post” button, I am tired of retyping my comments, give people the chance to screw up something and they will every time.

        1. LOL barry! Guess you haven’t learned to put the answer in before you start yet huh? lol!
          I still forget sometimes. 🙁
          Create a new email or open a word doc. do it there first then copy and paste here 🙂 that way if you forget to answer the question, wahlah!

          Whatever happened regarding the tests/autopsy/whatever they were going to do on Adam Lanza’s brain? I never heard anymore on that.

  2. May be a compartmentalized reaction to trauma . . . a self-survival response especially if abandoned by parents or society? Just a guess … I agree with Jolly … doesn’t seem to be a fair assessment.

    . . .

  3. As a kid I knew a few who seemed to not react to their pain or the pain others may feel. They were cruel to cats, and when they had a wound that should have really hurt, did not. Would that not qualify?

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