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ib theory of knowledge notes

Child Psychopaths

UPDATED ON - 11 OCT 2019

Knowledge Issue

  • Can a child be called a “psychopath”?


  • Read a New York Times article, “Can you call a 9year-old a psychopath?”, in TOK class

  • Further researched it and found many articles commenting on the subject

  • What is a psychopath? “A person suffering from a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior”


  • 3 Factor-structure defining psychopathy: (Cooke & Michie, 2001) An arrogant, deceitful interpersonal style, which involves: dishonesty, manipulation, grandiosity, and persuasiveness

    • Defective emotional experience, including lack of remorse, poor empathy, shallow emotions, and lack of responsibility for one’s actions

    • Behavioral manifestations of  impulsiveness, irresponsibility, and sensation-seeking

What makes them psychopaths?

  • For children, some researchers have said that a few family background variables are associated with the development of psychopathy. (Forth & Burke, 1998)

    • Parental rejection 

    • Inconsistent discipline

    • Abused

  • Moffit & Henry (1991) introduced the idea that a history of repeated abuse has reduced levels of arousal and reduced plasma cortisol levels.

How can one determine that a child is a psychopath?

  • Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL-YV; Forth et al, 2004)

  • Psychopathy Screening Device (PSD; Frick, 1998)

  • Childhood Psychopathy Scale (CPS; Lynam, 1997)

  • Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory

Example 1

  • Michael is a 9-year-old who has an extreme temper, lashing out violently and deliberately showing no empathy or remorse.

    • He’s intelligent, cold, calculating and explosive

  • “I’ve always said that Michael will grow up to be either a Nobel Prize winner or a serial killer,”

Example 2

  • Beth is a 5 and a half-year-old girl who seems to have psychopathic traits.
  • She was physically and sexually abused when she was about 1 by her birth father. She was also deprived of food.
  • In this video, she calmly tells her psychiatrist how she wants to hurt and kill her adoptive parents and her biological brother.
  • She seems to be calm and conversational as she’s describing how she deliberately harmed and killed animals and how she sexually molests and hurts her brother.

More Examples

  • Jeffrey Bailey Jr. (1986)
  • Jon Venables and Robert Thompson (1993)
  • Alyssa Bustamante (2009)
  • Joshua Phillips (1998)
  • Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (1999)

Additional Comments

  • “If they can get what they want without being cruel, that’s often easier. But at the end of the day, they’ll do whatever works best”
  • “10 percent of the people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths” 
  • “Psychopaths don’t feel guilty because they are blind to guilt”


  • Human Sciences
  • You can’t call a child a psychopath with certainty.
  • Ways of knowing:
    • Language
    • Reason
    • Perception


  • Kahn, Jennifer. "Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?" The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 May 2012. Web. 10 June 2012.
  • "Child of  Rage The FULL Documentary." YouTube. YouTube, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 11 June 2012.
  • Dolan, Mairead. "Advances in Psychiatric Treatment." Psychopathic Personality in Young People. N.p., 2005. Web. 11 June 2012.
  • Darling, Nancy. "Thinking About Kids." Psychopaths, Children, and Evil. Psychology Today, 14 May 2012. Web. 11 June 2012.
  • Mustich, Emma. "9-Year-Old Psychopath." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 May 2012. Web. 11 June 2012.

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