|Vol. 3, No. 3, 1997 Page 3|
New research (See related article, Crime Times, Vol. 3, No. 3, Page 1) indicates that childhood hyperactivity, even in the absence of childhood conduct disorder (CD), is a risk factor for behavioral pathology in adults. But researcher Donald Lynam believes that children with both hyperactivity and conduct problems have a far greater risk of becoming serious criminals, and that these children in fact may have "a subtype of CD best described as fledgling psychopathy." It is this group of children, Lynam speculates, w w w who become the hard core five or six percent of offenders who commit more than half of all crimes.
Lynam cites extensive evidence linking the combination of childhood hyperactivity and conduct problems to adult psychopathology. Among the research findings:
Lynam hypothesizes that children with both hyperactivity and conduct problems have a cognitive defect he calls the "psychopathic deficit." "This deficit," he says, "is a failure to inhibit... goal-directed behavior, in the face of changing environmental contingencies." He calls this "deficient P [for psychopathic] constraint," and notes that it is also seen in animals whose levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are depleted. (In humans and animals both, low serotonin levels are linked to impulsivity a a a a and aggression.)
In early childhood, Lynam says, the child with deficient "P constraint" will be hyperactive, moving restlessly from one reward to another; will fail to respond to admonitions; and will respond impulsively to rewards. The older child, when frustrated in se e e eeking rewards, will become physically or verbally aggressive. As for adults, Lynam says, "their deficit in P constraint will render them unable to pause and empathize with others or to feel remorse and guilt. These people's poor behavioral control will c c c c continue.... In their pursuits of rewards without regard to consequences, they will engage in promiscuous sex... and a variety of criminal activities."
Noting the link between low serotonin and defective "P constraint" in animals, Lynam says that children with both hyperactivity and conduct problems may require "a different pharmacological approach" than the standard Ritalin treatment. "Perhaps [drugs] operating selectively on the serotonergic system would be a better treatment than stimulants," he says. Additionally, he says, behavioral training could teach children techniques for overcoming their cognitive deficit.
Lynam believes it may be possible to identify and treat "fledgling psychopaths" before, rather than after, they start on a life of crime. He recommends that researchers develop batteries of tests to determine which children w w w with hyperactivity and conduct problems exhibit behavioral, personality, or neuropsychological similarities to adult psychopaths. Such children, he says, could be started in treatment programs at an early age. "It helps little to be able to identify the psychopath in adulthood," he say y y ys, "for this is a group known to be recalcitrant to efforts at rehabilitation."
"Early identification of chronic offenders: who is the fledgling psychopath?" Donald R. Lynam, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 120, No. 2, 1996, pp. 209-234. Address: Donald R. Lynam, University of Kentucky, Dept. of Psychology, 115 Kastle Hall, Lexin n n ngton, KY 40506-0044.