brain · mental health

Changing the path of a potential psychopath

Do we, individuals involved in fostering and ensuring optimum outcomes for child development have the potential to reverse the path of a potential psychopath? Apparently so. Amazing…

This idea has being written about by a Neuroscientist named James Fallon. He has written a book called ‘ The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey Into The Dark Side of The Brain’. The story goes that he was researching Alzheimer’s using healthy family members brain MRI’s as the control while reviewing MRI’S of murdering psychopaths concurrently. One of the healthy brain scans somehow got into the set of psychopath scans. He thought a mistake had being made, his brain scan mirrored those of the psychopaths.

He started digging into his past and his family’s past. His Mum said that when he was younger he was a happy kid but had points in his life when he was really weird. Certain parents forbade their kids from hanging out with him and others thought he would grow up as a bad ass gang leader or drug lord. Professional friends he has an adult were able to identify behaviour he sometimes displayed as ‘psychopathic’.

Interestingly he found that he had a series of genetic alleles called “warrior genes”, which effect serotonin. The theory is that there is a higher risk of aggression, violence and low interpersonal empathy with someone who has these genes and is raised in an abusive environment. Alternatively, being raised in a positive environment can counteract the potential negative effects of these genes.

According to this neuroscientist, children who are primary psychopaths- that is they have the genes and the brain which predisposes them to this- can have behaviours emerging around 2-3 yrs. His idea is that if we can see these primary psychopathic behviours emerging in kids  we can discuss this with families and look at how to protect them and the child, and involve health professionals to oversee his development. Looking at how to protect them from things like bullying, anxiety, bad influences, violence etc.

As someone who is heavily interested in child development, including how we become who we are, nature vs nurture, attachment theory etc, this notion of reversing something that may be genetically pre-programmed is a fascinating suggestion. In my line of work with children and families, children exposed to abusive environments occurs too frequently. These families often purposefully limit their access to services which could benefit them greatly. Especially the benefits that could present for children at a young age when that extraordinary, crucial brain development is occurring. Specifically the limbic system which develops in these young ages and affects their ability to regulate emotion from youth to adulthood.

Whatever the future advancements or practices are in this area, infant brain development is clearly so paramount and will channel the path of  individuals throughout their life. We have the knowledge about what damage does during these young years if not rectified but we seem to be at a standstill, sentencing innocent little people to a life with a mind they can’t control, all the while watching on and making pointless observations.

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