Many children in the UK could belong to a ‘psychopathic’ sub group, according to experts. Described as callous-unemotional (CE) these children are able to lie and cheat with ease, manipulate and commit cruel acts without remorse.
Children that fit in this category are also immune to standard punishments, such the ‘naughty step’, and to reasoning, which fails because they do not have a normal conscience. The condition was portrayed by the title character in the film We Need to Talk About Kevin.
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New research by Professor Essi Viding from University College Hospital estimates that between a quarter and half of children with behaviour problems may come under the CE umbrella – around one in 100 children in the UK. Viding is due to give a talk on her findings at the British Science Festival next week, but in the meantime has suggested there could be a genetic link that predisposes some children to psychopathy.
Viding said: "For the group which has callous-unemotional traits, there's a strong genetic vulnerability.
"This does not mean these children are born anti-social or are destined to become anti-social. But in the same way that some of us are more susceptible to heart disease, these children are people who are more vulnerable to environmental influences that trigger the anti-social outcome."
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She added: "The kinds of features that parents report are cruelty to animals, cruelty to younger siblings and lying and not having any remorse or concern about getting caught.”
Though theories around CU children are still in their infancy, Viding suggested ‘warm parenting’ may be an advisable route. This involves giving children what they want in return for good behavior.
"We may need to appeal to their selfish motives,” she explained.