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  • >> Good afternoon, everybody.

  • A very warm welcome to today's UCL Lunch Hour lecture.

  • It is my great pleasure to introduce Essi Viding,

  • professor of Developmental Psychopathology

  • in the UCL division of Psychology

  • and Language Sciences.

  • Professor Viding's lecture for us today is entitled,

  • Why do some people become psychopaths?

  • >> Thank you.

  • Individuals with psychopathy tend

  • to capture public imagination.

  • People are fascinated by what makes these individuals

  • so different.

  • And there has been a tendency

  • to at times sensationalize the condition and the description

  • of the condition in the media.

  • And I guess one of the signs

  • that these individuals really do capture the public imagination

  • is that they have featured in a number of popular films.

  • So here we have a picture of Jacob,

  • a character from Buckham [assumed spelling] Films

  • and he's very impulsive and he's also entirely unconcerned

  • about the impact of his behavior on other people

  • and he seems to lack empathy.

  • We have Kevin who is from the movie,

  • We Need to Talk about Kevin.

  • This is a very chilling description

  • of a child who's not capable of forming attachment relationships

  • with his parents who's cruel to animals and cruel

  • to younger children who ends up by the end of the film

  • and the book that it's based on becoming a killer.

  • He kills family members and also people at his school.

  • We have Anton Chigurh who's an absolutely chilling contract

  • killer in the current Coen Brothers film,

  • No Country for Old Men.

  • And if anyone has seen the film, I think one of very scary things

  • about observing this character is when you see shots

  • that are focused directly at his eyes

  • and there really is no emotion coming back

  • to you from those eyes.

  • And then there's probably everyone's favorite psychopath

  • from movies, Hannibal Lecter from the Silence

  • of the Lamb film; and he is again, a very good example

  • of a psychopathic character in that he's entirely void

  • of empathy for other people and he's also extremely skillful

  • at manipulating other people to his own ends.

  • And in fact, if you asked members

  • of the general public what springs to mind

  • when they hear the word psychopath,

  • people often think about serial killers.

  • And real-life serial killers include characters

  • such as Ted Bundy who killed

  • at least 30 women in America in 1970s.

  • He was very bright and extremely handsome, and he often posed

  • as somebody who was in a position of authority or someone

  • who was very reliable to entice these women to come with him,

  • and then he murdered them in a very cruel way.

  • And people think that he actually may have committed many

  • more crimes than he confessed to.

  • His description of himself was

  • that he's the most cold-hearted son

  • of a bitch you'll ever likely to meet.

  • And interestingly his defense lawyer didn't have a lot

  • of good things to say about him either and said

  • that he was the very definition of heartless evil.

  • So this was a man who was able to be very charming,

  • was able to convince other people to come with him,

  • but he actually turned out to be somebody

  • who felt absolutely nothing for his victims and didn't seem

  • to really feel any guilt for what he had done.

  • But, of course, not all psychopaths are serial killers.

  • In fact, only a very few are.

  • So what are the characteristics

  • that define an individual with psychopathy?

  • Well, one of the most prominent characteristics is their lack

  • of remorse and guilt.

  • So they simply do not feel bad about the things they have done.

  • They may sometimes say that they do if they perceive

  • that as getting them something that they want

  • such as early release from prison.

  • But it's very clear from the way they behave and --

  • that they do not actually experience remorse

  • for what they have done.

  • They don't feel bad about what they have done.

  • They're very shallow affect.

  • Their emotions appear ingenuine and often very short lived.

  • They don't form typical attachment relationships.

  • They don't look after the people around them.

  • They can often have superficial charm.

  • So if you meet these individuals for the first time,

  • you may be very, very alert by them.

  • They may seem very gregarious, very charming, very nice.

  • But once you get to know them for a longer period of time

  • that charm tends to wear off.

  • They often have a grandiose sense of self worth.

  • They think they are better

  • and more deserving than other people.

  • They're pathological liars and they are typically very good

  • at manipulating other people to their own ends.

  • As a developmental psychologist I'm very interested

  • in how these characteristics develop.

  • It's unlikely that anybody's born a psychopath

  • but clearly you don't get this sort of conditions

  • as a birthday present when you turn 18 either.

  • So the research in our group has been focused

  • on investigating what makes some children developmentally

  • vulnerable to developing these sorts

  • of personality traits as an adult.

  • And you can focus on various different levels of query

  • when you try and understand the development of this condition.

  • So we can look at how children who are at risk

  • of becoming adult psychopaths look like behaviorally.

  • What differentiates these children

  • from typical developing children or other children

  • who may have behavioral problems

  • but who don't exhibit these cold characteristics

  • of lack of empathy and guilt.

  • We can study how these children see the world around them

  • so we can use experimental tasks to focus

  • on their psychological level analysis.

  • And we can see if these children's brains react

  • differently to information around them

  • which is what you would expect if their behavior

  • and if their way of processing information is different.

  • And you can also use genetically informative designs

  • to study the relevant importance of genetic

  • and environmental factors

  • in developing this type of condition.

  • And you can also try and look for specific risk genes

  • and risk environmental factors

  • that in concert might promote the development of the disorder.

  • Now we'll first tell you a little bit

  • about what makes these children behaviorally different

  • from their typically developing peers but also

  • from other children who have behavioral problems.

  • So there are several early behavioral warning signs

  • of children who are at risk for psychopathy

  • and these look very different from the kinds

  • of characteristics we see in adult psychopaths.

  • The person who first formally downward extended this

  • psychopathic criteria to children was Paul Frick

  • and this was work that started 20 years ago

  • in the United States and now several different research

  • groups across the globe have studied these behavioral

  • characteristics in children and in young people.

  • These children lack remorse and guilt so they don't express

  • that they're sorry for what they've done.

  • They lack empathy and this can be often manifested

  • by them behaving cruelly amongst other children, bullying,

  • being very physically aggressive in a way

  • that is really showing no concern

  • over developing of the other person.

  • They are also sometimes cruel to animals

  • such as pets in the family.

  • They have shallow affects so many of the parents report

  • that they don't feel like they can connect with this child.

  • They may have a perfectly nice relationship

  • with their other children and if anyone has read the book,

  • We Need to Talk About Kevin, I think that's a very good example

  • of a mother who was able to form an attachment relationship

  • with one of her children, but really felt

  • like there was nothing coming back from the child who went

  • on to develop psychopathy.

  • These children can manipulate other people for their own gain.

  • And they have a sense of being more important

  • and more deserving than other people.

  • And in combination this constellation of traits

  • in children is called callous-unemotional traits.

  • So clearly we don't want to label children as psychopaths

  • but this constellation of traits gives you a warning sign

  • that the child who scores very high on these traits may be

  • at risk for developing psychopathy in the adulthood.

  • They're kind of like the warning sign.

  • You want to start thinking about doing something

  • to help this child if they display this constellation

  • of characteristics.

  • There's now quite a bit of good longitudinal research showing

  • that these sorts of traits are predictive of persistent,

  • violent and severe antisocial behavior and psychopathy

  • in adolescents and adulthood.

  • They don't predict that every child who's score high

  • on these sorts of traits will inevitably become an antisocial

  • adult but they do index that that child is

  • at a significantly increased risk

  • of developing the antisocial presentation in adulthood.

  • Antisocial behavior in children is called conduct problems.

  • And if you think about this circle that I'm showing to you

  • as representing all the children with conduct problems

  • and the blue circles as representing the minority

  • who also has high levels of callous-unemotional traits

  • and you get an idea that they are a minority

  • but they are a sizable minority.

  • So people estimate that somewhere between 25 to as high

  • as 50 percent of the children who are diagnosed

  • with conduct problems also have this presentation

  • of high callous-unemotional traits.

  • And what sets them apart from other children

  • with conduct problems is that they often engage in proactive

  • or planned acts of aggression.

  • So while the aggression in other children

  • with conduct problems is typically quite impulsive

  • and in reaction to something external that happened,

  • for instance, a perceived threat or slight to the child,

  • these children can engage in aggression

  • if they think it's going to get them something they want.

  • It might get them status among peers.

  • It might get them some goods that they desire.

  • As I've already said they lack guilt.

  • They don't worry about hurting other people

  • to get what they want and they often have low levels

  • of anxiety.

  • And this is in contrast with the remainder of children

  • with conduct problems who have low levels

  • of callous-unemotional traits and who often aggress

  • when they feel under threat

  • and whose aggression is often impulsive.

  • It's not premeditated.

  • And when these children have had a chance to reflect

  • on what they have done, they actually often feel bad

  • and guilty about having hurt other people

  • or having done something that has caused their parents

  • or their teachers to feel sad.

  • And this presentation can also occur

  • with high levels of anxiety.

  • So you already are beginning to see from this behavioral data

  • that the reactivity, emotional reactivity profile

  • of these two types of children

  • with conduct problems is quite different.

  • You have a group that seems to be more cold and calculated

  • and unemphatic, and then you have another group who seems

  • to be more hot headed, reactive, and impulsive

  • but who also has the capacity to empathize with other people.

  • So these different behavioral profiles have got psychologists

  • interested in how these children may see the world

  • around them differently from typically developing children

  • but also their peers with conduct problems.

  • And we can focus on the study of the psychological level

  • of analysis by giving children experimental tasks

  • which we often present on a computer, for instance,

  • and these tasks can give us an idea

  • of how they process information such as facial,

  • emotional expressions.

  • So I want you to have a go at doing one of the tasks

  • that we do with the children.

  • Here's a face that is starting

  • with a neutral rather calm expression and I'm going

  • to press a button and it's going

  • to start slowly developing an emotional expression.

  • And when you think you know what the expression is,

  • please shout it out loud and don't be shy.

  • Okay. Happy.

  • Very good.

  • So you can see fairly early on in the development

  • of this expression that this is somebody who's looking happy,

  • their corners of the mouth are going