This is the clearest sign that your child will grow up to be a psychopath

This is the clearest sign that your child will grow up to be a psychopath

When the word 'psychopath' is mentioned, it conjures up images of maniacal bad guys and figures of extreme evil. You've got your methodical psychopaths (think: Hannibal Lecter), your chaotic baddies (Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker is a good example), and your straight-up bloodthirsty creepers (Patrick Bateman in American Psycho).

But psychopaths are by no means constrained to works of fiction. In fact, it's estimated that about one per cent of the general population fit the psychiatric character profile for psychopathy, meaning that you almost certainly went to school with one, work alongside one, or perhaps even are one yourself.

It doesn't necessarily mean that you'll end up turning into a mass-murderer if you are (though it is more likely to lead to criminal tendencies, as shown by the fact that 25 per cent of convicted male offenders are psychopaths), but it does mean you won't be able to feel emotion in the same way that the other 99 per cent of people do.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, these tendencies and behaviors are actually present from a very young age - and there's one clear giveaway.

In a paper published in the journal Current Biology, research found that boys who are likely to develop psychopathy in adulthood show signs early on in life, especially in social settings.

Observations showed that children who do not find laughter contagious are likely to have a significant lack of empathy: one of the symptoms of the condition. In social situations, they may not share the same emotions as their peers, and will not naturally laugh along with other children.

However, the author of the study, Professor Essi Viding, was careful to iterate that this is only an indicator of possible psychopathy, not a surefire guarantee. She also pointed out that the condition is only seen in adults, and should not be used as a label for minors:

"It is not appropriate to label children psychopaths. Psychopathy is an adult personality disorder.

"However, we do know from longitudinal research that there are certain children who are at a higher risk for developing psychopathy, and we screened for those features that indicate that risk."

Viding also said that these children experience the world and interactions differently:

"Those social cues that automatically give us pleasure or alert us to someone’s distress do not register in the same way for these children. That does not mean that these children are destined to become antisocial or dangerous; rather, these findings shed new light on why they often make different choices from their peers."

In basic terms: psychopathy does not have to mean a future of coldness and crazy behavior, and analyzing signs of it in young people may help towards understanding the personality disorder in adults. And, while it cannot be cured, it can certainly be managed to some extent.

After all, if one per cent of the world have managed to get by with the condition without us even noticing, it can't always be as extreme as the movies make it out to be.