Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

The Creo of Psychopathic Traits in Children


The factors influencing the development of psychopaths are quite controversial. The nature vs nurture debate regarding the overall development of a person, is one of the oldest arguments in psychology’s history. Although the relationship between a person’s genetic makeup and their influential life experiences hasn’t been specifically proven, there happens to be a linked association between victims of child abuse and the potential development of psychopathy.

Some say, this could be a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ referring to the act of imitating ones behaviour. This suggests that children who are physically abused or watch their siblings being abused are more likely to produce that action upon other children and/or adults because they know no different. However, research puts forward that this is far more than a learned behaviour triggered by imitating others, but rather an enhancement of different brain regions linked to those with psychopathic traits, caused by traumatic experiences in an individual’s early stages of life.

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM), found a relationship between child abuse victims and the later development of psychopathy. While the research remains slightly understood, the interaction between environmental factors (abuse) and genetic factors remain to be interrelated. Through conducted research on the brain in children and adults using brain imaging, it’s been reported that the emotional and behavioural regions of the brain may represent heightened stress adaptations from early childhood experiences and the region specifically used for emotion processing, the cerebellum, was decreased in size in children and adult victims of abuse. Depending on the severity of the abuse obtained by the individual and societal norms, children who develop the ‘lacking emotion’ psychopathic trait could potentially lead to having an increased risk of psychopathy as an adult.


Figure 1: Shaded red region: Healthy cerebellum in an adult

Rather than looking at children who have been abused The Journal of Psychotraumatology conducted a study in 2013 with male offenders who were abused as children. This ongoing study stated ‘that convicted male offenders with high levels of psychopathic traits were more likely to have experienced abuse and neglect during childhood, and they were even more likely to have experienced relational trauma at an early age’ (J Psychotraumatol, 2013). It was also stated that their ‘research has shown a higher prevalence of traumatic events in more severe violent offenders’ (J Psychotraumatol, 2013). Although the obtained results don’t have a direct cause-effect relationship between early child abuse trauma and psychopathy, there surely is a relationship between a traumatic disturbance throughout early years of childhood and the development of psychopathic traits.istock_000015474379_large_1

This indicates that the increase in child abuse is likely to have an increased effect in the development of psychopathic traits. Therefore, considering that abuse among any individual shouldn’t be committed, it is crucial to specifically target awareness for children in these situations to decrease the likelihood of young adults potentially firing negative psychopathic traits, that are fuelled by traumatic past events.


  • McCrory, E, 2012, ‘The link between child abuse and psychopathology: A review of neurobiological and genetic research’, Journal of the Royal Melbourne Society of Medicine, 105(4): 151–156. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2011.110222
  • McCrory E, De Brito SA, 2010, ‘The neurobiology and genetics of maltreatment and adversity’, J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 51:1079–95 doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02271.x.
  • Caretti V, Capraro G, Schimmenti A, 2013, ‘Traumatic experiences in childhood and psychopathy’, Eur J Psychotraumatol, 4: doi: 10.3402/ejpt.v4io.21471
  • Blonigen DM, Hicks BM, Krueger, RF, 2005, ‘Psychopathic personality traits: heritability and genetic overlap with internalizing and externalizing psychopathology’, Psychol Med, 35(5): 637–648, doi: 10.1017/S0033291704004180



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This entry was posted on April 21, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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