What Do Psychopaths Really Need?

Everyone is in shock about the mass killings at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and now, at the campus for disabled adults in San Bernadino.

But how can you be sure you don't raise a pyschopath?

A new study says that parents who don't pay enough attention to their children's distress may, in some very rare cases, not hear their children's cry for help, and then we all know what carnage can happen, after that.

The recipe is pretty simple, at least to me.

How do you stop a child, especially one who has experienced significant adversity, from growing up to be a psychopath? Responsive, empathetic care-giving – especially when children are in distress – helps prevent boys from becoming callous, unemotional adolescents, according to a new Tulane University study of children raised in foster care.

The study showed that intervention can actually prevent such a disastrous outcome.  The destructive condition affects approximately 1 percent of the population, and while that might not seem like much, it's still tens of thousands of people.  Psychopaths are characterized by callous interpersonal interactions and lack of guilt or empathy.

Does Adam Lanza come to mind?  I don't know what else you would call someone who would slaughter 20 children in their classrooms.  Or a man who would shoot up a clinic dedicated to women's health.  Or a married couple (a married couple!) destroying a county department, and its Christmas party.

I was in a different part of the house when I heard a somber voice coming from the TV and, just on instinct (I'm a newshound), went to see.  What was on the screen was unbelievable.   "Not again," I said, before I could catch myself.  From my son's bedroom came the sound of cheering.  He was watching a soccer game.  Just another day in America, as a BBC reporter put it.

It's all been said better than I can but what is it going to take to stop all this killing?  I bet, not just compassion and empathy for kids who have been through trauma themselves.

In the study, researchers measured levels of callous-unemotional behavior in 12-year-olds from a cohort of children abandoned in Romanian orphanages in the early 2000s and followed ever since. Half of these children were placed in high-quality foster care as toddlers, while others grew up in institutional care.  Researchers compared their results with children who had never been orphans.

Overall, children reared in orphanages had significantly higher levels of callous-unemotional traits compared to children who had never been institutionalized. Boys placed in foster care had lower levels of callous-unemotional traits than those who did not receive the intervention. What explained the difference? Researchers observed children with their caregivers as toddlers and found that the more sensitive caregivers were to a young child’s distress, the less callous and more empathic the boys were in adolescence.


Could Adam Lanza and Robert Dear and the couple whose names I can't spell or pronounce been saved with the right amount of caring and attention?  I find that too ridculously simple.

But since we're going nowhere fast with gun control, maybe the answer is up to us, to care more for those who may not have had the love and understanding they need.  I know, I know, I'm a bleeding heart liberal.  But what if the alternative is just more violence and destruction and death?

Yes, what makes sense is keeping guns out of the hands of people like these savage killers.  But since Congress doesn't have the guts, refusing to vote for two sensible gun control measures THIS week, (and yes, Republicans, I'm looking at you), I despair that this is never going to end, is going to become what President Obama has sworn would never happen, but has.  The new normal.

I refuse to believe this. But if even the killing of children is bearable (and we know it is, because gun control didn't even pass after SANDY HOOK - I never use capital letters but this just can't be written without caps), then maybe we don't deserve to walk into theaters and shopping malls and our workplace without the fear of being gunned down.  


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