Childhood Psychopathy

John Marshall, The Scotsman

aaron_campbellJohn Marshall, a consultant clinical and forensic psychologist, writing under the handle “The Scotsman,” wrote an article, Political correctness strikes again: Many social workers are in denial about child psychopaths dealing with a case in which a 16-year-old boy, Aaron Campbell, raped and killed six-year-old, Aleisha MacPhail. From this extraordinary case, Dr. Marshall goes on to make the case for diagnosing kids with psychopathy, something that is verboten in professional circles. Kids who show psychopathic traits can be called “callous unemotional” instead. The brain of a child is in such a volatile state of development that children can’t be called “psychopaths” according to psychiatry, psychology and other related fields. The article points out that one doesn’t “become” a psychopath on one’s 16th birthday. Actually, 16 is considered too young for       the diagnosis. The brain is still developing.

The Scotsman argues,

alesha_macphailIt would be tempting to think that the type of sadistic homicide carried out by Campbell is so rare that there is little we need to do about people with psychopathic traits. It is estimated that less than one to three per cent in the population will be diagnosed with these traits over their lifetime and even among offenders only around eight per cent are psychopathic. However, psychopaths are responsible for overwhelming misery, disproportionate amounts of crime, more varied offending and they are far more likely to be responsible for homicide. They may even be responsible for more than half of all persistent, violent crimes.

scotsmanAs a psychopath who knows other psychopaths, none of us having raped and killed a child, I get bloody tired of seeing out kind characterized this way. Of course, society has a tendency to call a perp of any heinous crime “a psychopath.” And yet, “At a hearing after the trial ended it emerged the teenager had a history of self harm, anxiety and depression, and has been tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Self-harm, anxiety and depression are not symptoms of psychopathy. In fact, psychopaths have less of those symptoms than nons. This is a perfect example of equating a horrible crime with psychopathy. Has this boy been diagnosed with even callous unemotional disorder (the approved diagnosis for pre-psychopathic youth)?

This boy is a poor example to use if the Scotsman wants to argue for giving minors diagnoses of psychopathy. And it’s high time to stop all this loose talk about how psychopaths are “responsible for overwhelming misery…” when using such questionable data.


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5 thoughts on “Childhood Psychopathy

  1. I am reminded of the rhetoric of the “crack epidemic” panic and the pushing of three-strikes laws and mass incarceration of the young men and boys so authoritatively described as “super predators” (big words like psychopath and sociopath being too heavy for the plebeian masses). There are some entirely adequate categories in the DSM for problem, even violent, behavior by children, and the use of diagnostic labels rightly reserved for presumably mature adults, especially those on Axis Two, for developing children is not appropriate. After all, among many professionals I’ve known, it was common to say that you can’t diagnose an adolescent as BPD, because that volatility and sensitivity is part of that stage of development.

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    1. That’s so true about adolescents acting like volatile folk with BPD. I had some prize BPD moments as a teenager. Once I even wrote a letter to a guy I was dating in my own blood. The funny part was I wasn’t in love with him. I didn’t even have strong feelings for him. Just being a drama queen.

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  2. People don’t take responsibility for their kids anymore. They don’t put in the effort to rein in their children leading to situations such as these.
    One can always say the child was a narcissist, psychopath or sociopath.
    This is not good at all. Grouping things is good if you are studying something as a scientist.
    But it’s essentially a study. You give that to laymen, who mainly can not study and most definitely can not think, you create a problem for everyone.
    Then most western countries have something called “due process” and it is being dismantled by these “studies of psychopathy”.
    Even if psychopathy does exist, it doesn’t change the fact that you should prosecute criminals, absolve those who commit no crimes, and in general, maintain the peace.
    All the new “knowledge” of mental disorders has not led to a safer world either. If something doesn’t do the job it was meant to do, there’s something wrong with it.
    This is why I don’t trust any studies or materials on psychopathy because, they are applied incorrectly, can’t be effectively applied anyway, are applied to the wrong groups, are not logically done. You get the drift.
    Maybe we should stop glamorizing crime on TV and movies. Maybe we should actually remove unethical people from government and management. That way, there isn’t a blind spot when it comes to doing the right thing.
    Either way, a mental and emotional problem regarding mankind in general, rather than a problem with just a small segment of people.

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    1. I’m having a hard time understanding you. You seem to be criticizing the popular culture’s use of the concept of “psychopathy” on the ground that it leads to excusing bad behavior. Is that it? Personally, I think psychopaths should be held responsible for our actions. We have more to lose by being seen as “sickies” who “can’t help it” than we have to gain by it. As for the glamorization of crime, maybe we should ask ourselves why so many people need to do it. Maybe they resent the chains of obedience they wear as civilized beings.

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