Fear deficit might be an early sign of future psychopaths, a new study has suggested.
Researchers at the University of Washington found that children with a particular risk factor for psychopathy don't register fear as quickly as healthy children.What happens is you're born without that fear, so when your parents try to socialize you, you don't really respond appropriately because you're not scared," said the study's primary author Patrick D. Sylvers.
Some recent research have suggested that one possible way to inculcate fear in them is to impel them to have eye contacts with fearful faces to bring back their attention. But here the researchers have proved this wrong.
Sylvers and his coauthors, Patricia A. Brennan and Scott O. Lilienfeld of Emory University sureveyed and asked some boys whether they felt guilty when they hurt other people.
They were most interested in 'callous unemotionality' - a lack of regard for others' feelings. Children who rank high on callous unemotionality are at risk of developing psychopathy later.
In this experiment, each boy watched a screen that showed a different picture to each eye. One eye saw abstract shapes in constant motion.
In the other eye, images of face and abstract objects were faded up extremely quickly before one can pay attention. Each face showed one of four expressions: fearful, disgusted, happy, or neutral. The child was supposed to push a button when he saw the face.
According to Sylvers, healthy people are 'reacting to a threat even though they're not aware of it.' That suggests that teaching children to pay attention to faces won't help solve the underlying problems of psychopathy, because the difference happens before attention comes into play.
"I think it's just going to take a lot more research to figure out what you can do - whether it's parenting, psychological interventions, or pharmacological therapy. At this point, we just don't know," said Sylvers.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.