A research study into the misbehavior of children shows that "callous-unemotional [CU] traits" displayed at the age of seven resulted in continuing problems even at a later age.
The study was directed by psychologist Nathalie Fontaine of Indiana University in Bloomington and involved 9,578 children who were born in England and Wales from 1994 to 1996. Teacher and parent evaluations of behavior problems and callous-unemotional traits at ages 7, 9 and 12 were used.
The study revealed that 4.4 per cent of the children showed severe misbehavior and callous-unemotional traits all throughout the period of the study. It was remarkable that this entire group came from disorganized families where harsh punishment for a misdemeanor was the norm. The children, mostly boys, were also hyperactive and had a poor rapport with their peers.
Fontaine, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. remarked that callous-unemotional traits should be included in the definition of severe childhood conduct disorder in the next published edition of psychiatric disorders.
Adrian Raine, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, in another study concluded that 3-year-olds who do not fear impending punishments commit criminal offenses at much higher rates than others in their twenties. Lack of fear is a distinguishing feature among callous-unemotional traits as well as showing no remorse or regret for the wrong committed.
Although it has been established that 5 to 10 percent of schoolchildren continue in antisocial behaviors such as fighting, lying and stealing, more research needs to be done on what makes children who grow out of this pattern different from those who continue in wrong behavior. Longer studies are needed to evaluate whether becoming psychopaths is the future that children with high levels of callous-unemotional traits face.
Right now what may help parents, teachers and other adults who interact with these children is the fact that they respond best to rewards for good behavior rather than punishment for their wrongs.