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Psychopathy Traits in Children Becoming 'Alarmingly Familiar' to More Parents

Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary(WASHINGTON) -- Psychopathy is a complex term that is used mostly by researchers to describe antisocial behavior that is impulsive, aggressive, deceitful and with a desire to break all the rules.

More and more, these characteristics are appearing to be "alarmingly familiar" to some parents -- the teen who bullies other children and shows cruelty to animals, never showing a shred of empathy. This is an extremely relevant concern, especially in today’s society, where questions are being raised regarding whether to take legal action against bullies, and what are the most effective methods of preventing bullying in schools and over the cybersphere.

Though it would be comforting to assure parents that this behavior is not their fault, unfortunately psychiatric experts say that psychopathy affects three to six percent of the population and is genetically based.

"It's biological and one of the most inherited human characteristics," said Dr. Igor Galynker, associate chairman for the department of psychology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

In the psychiatrists' bible, the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM), the mental disorder is classified as "conduct disorder" in those under 18 and "antisocial personality disorder" in adults.

"These people really see you as a piece of furniture and the empathy that allows us to feel others' feelings is missing," he said. "These people are wired differently. Their brains are different."

About 50 percent of these neurological traits are inherited and 50 percent are shaped by other influences. Having the genetic predisposition and growing up in an aggressive environment can be lethal.

"Intimidation and bullying creates bullies," said Dr. Igor Galynker, associate chairman for the department of psychology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "In a perfect environment, raised by well-meaning parents, you can still draw a psychopath."

A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, reported last year that increased gray matter was found in several areas of the brain in boys with psychopathic traits.

It's not always easy to identify, especially in children, who can be callous and cruel and torture their peers. And when psychopaths are diagnosed, they are hard to treat, though there has been some success with empathy training, according to Galynker, who said, "It takes years."

Bipolar disorder can also mimic psychopathy.

It is easy to diagnose a psychopath in hindsight, according to Darwin Dorr, a professor and director of clinical training at Wichita State University in Kansas.

"We all do bad things, but with a true psychopath there is a predation about them," he said. "They prey on other people. That is part of their MO. Kids do bully, but is there a pattern of preying on kids?"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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