Rhiannon Edward, Scotsman (Edinburgh), May 25
Psychopaths are born anti-social, not corrupted by bad parenting, scientists reveal today.
A study of twins showed that anti-social behaviour was strongly inherited in children with psychopathic tendencies. In children without psychopathic traits, being anti-social was chiefly the result of environmental factors.
The findings support previous research indicating that children with psychopathic tendencies often remain an anti-social problem. Psychopaths are generally recognised by a lack of empathy and weak conscience. If a psychopath does something that hurts another person, he or she is less likely to feel remorse than other people.
These tendencies are a recognised warning sign of anti-social behaviour in young children.
To help identify the genetic components of anti-social behaviour, a team of British psychiatrists studied 3,687 pairs of seven-year-old twins.
Twins are often used by researchers investigating inherited traits. Identical twins share the same genes, and, therefore, the same inherited influences, whereas non-identical twins do not. By comparing the two groups, it is possible to see if a trait is or is not carried in the genes.
In the new study, teacher ratings for anti-social behaviour and psychopathic tendencies were obtained for the children. Those in the top 10 per cent of the sample for anti-social behaviour were separated into two groups, with and without psychopathic tendencies. Analysis showed that anti-social behaviour was only strongly inherited in the psychopathic children.
The chief investigator, Dr Essi Viding, from the Medical Research Council’s Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, said: “The discovery that psychopathic tendencies are strongly heritable suggests we need to get help for these youngsters early on.”
The research is published today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.