Vol. 7, No. 3, 2001 Page 3&4

Are psychopathic children 'blind' to fearful, sad expressions?

Children with psychopathic tendencies have difficulty recognizing sadness and fear, according to a new British study.

D. Stevens and colleagues studied nine children who exhibited symptoms of psychopathy, and nine control children. Each child viewed sad, fearful, happy, and angry facial expressions, and listened to voices expressing these emotions. "The children with psychopathic tendencies showed selective impairments in the recognition of both sad and fearful facial expressions and sad vocal tone," the researchers say. In contrast, they did not have difficulty recognizing happy or angry expressions, or fearful, happy, and angry vocal tones.

The researchers suggest that the impairment of their psychopathic subjects may reflect early dysfunction of the amygdala, a structure located within the temporal lobes of the brain. Previous research indicates that individuals with amygdala damage due to strokes or viral infections have difficulty identifying facial expressions of fear.

The findings of Stevens et al. correlate with an earlier study by British researchers (including one member of Stevens' team). In that study last year, Derek Mitchell and James Blair showed films of people expressing different emotions to psychopathic children and adults. Both young and adult psychopaths had difficulty recognizing fearful expressions.

"Recognition of emotion in facial expressions and vocal tones in children with psychopathic tendencies," D. Stevens, T. Charman, and R. J. Blair, Journal of Genetic Psychology, Vol. 162, No. 2, June 2001, pp. 201-211. Address: D. Stevens, Department of Psychology, University College of London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, England.


"Psychopaths find faces a mystery," BBC News, September 16, 2000.

Related Article: [2001, Vol. 7]

Return to:
[Author Directory] [Front Page] [Issue Index] [Subject Index] [Title Index]