Home | Industry & Research | Results of UNSW anti-psychopathy trial ‘promising’
Still from film version of 'We Need To Talk about Kevin'. Photo: BBC Films

Results of UNSW anti-psychopathy trial ‘promising’

We need to talk about Kevin. Kevin Khatchadourian is a 15-year-old boy who committed a massacre at his high school and killed his father and sister. Growing up, he exhibited early signs of psychopathy: chronic unrest during infancy, failure to bond with others, animal torture and sibling abuse. He was also precociously intelligent and displayed no emotion – other incipient hallmarks of the disorder.

Although a product of novelist Lionel Shriver’s imagination, there are children like him.

Children with callous traits comprise about two per cent of the population. Those with disruptive behaviour disorders (including behaviours like defiance of authority figures, angry outbursts, lying and stealing) comprise around five per cent. In roughly a third of cases, these traits (callousness and poor conduct) are co-morbid. Their co-morbidity increases if they aren’t treated. In juvenile justice centres, for example, the rate of co-morbidity is 50 to 60 per cent.

Full-blown psychopaths are estimated to comprise one per cent of the population. But, by nipping certain behaviours in the bud, they could comprise less.

UNSW researchers are trialling a new intervention, aimed at stopping children with antisocial personalities from going ‘full-Kevin’. So far, the results are promising.

Twenty-three Australian families with a three to six-year-old child with pronounced conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits underwent the 21-week intervention program. It involved adapting a ‘gold standard’ program for conduct disorders, to cover callous behaviour too.

“For … children who show poorly developed levels of empathy and remorse, existing interventions don’t typically work well,” said lead researcher, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the UNSW Parent-Child Research Clinic, Eva Kimonis.

The trial results have been published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

Currently, Kimonis’ team is conducting a randomised controlled trial, comparing the novel intervention to the standard treatment. Families interested in participating are invited to contact the Clinic: ph: (02) 9385 0376, email: [email protected], web: http://www.conductproblems.com/contact/

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