Psychopathy–defined here as a biological dysfunction preventing the experience of emotions like empathy or remorse–has, historically, been thought to be untreatable. So what happens to the traits associated with it manifest organically in children? [Content warning in the article for descriptions of abuse.] Which does happen, and probably more than people want to admit, partly for the stigma it attaches to the child, but also to the parents. And yes: while psychopathic traits can be induced by trauma, they can also be genetic. So it’s possible to be lifelong gold medalists in the Good Parent Olympics, and still end up with a potential serial killer as a child. (Several such parents and children are interviewed in the article, and it’s chilling to read.)

Life outcomes for psychopathic children are grim, but the article does have some cautious maybe-good-news stories. Apparently gamification (of all things) has some impact as a treatment. It involves teaching children with conduct disorders a kind of “cognitive conscience” through a system of points-based “levels” that focus on positively reinforcing good behaviors and ignoring bad ones. It works because an “overactive reward system” tends to go hand-in-hand with psychopathic traits, which in adults tends to manifest as addictions (gambling, sex, drugs, et cetera), and in children means they will chase rewards and ignore punishments. There’s some hope that early retraining of the brains of children with these disorders may assist them, if not necessarily fully integrate into mainstream society, then at least minimize the harm they could otherwise do in it.