Researchers have found a possible test to indicate psychopathic traits in toddlers that may manifest as they age. Called the “red ball” test, it indicates that a child may lack emotional empathy for others – eerily similar to Wall Street execs.
A group of psychologists at Kings College London performed an experiment in which they used a red ball to observe the visual focus of 213 five-week-old children. The ball helped researchers observe whether the children preferred to interact with the ball or other people. Once the children were two and a half years old, the researchers retested the children to observe which ones exhibited callous-unemotional traits.
They found that children who showed greater affinity for the red ball at five weeks old also tended to have more present callous-unemotional traits at two and a half.
“Callous unemotional behaviors in children are known to be associated with an increased emotional burden on families as well as later criminality and antisocial behavior,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Rachael Bedford, to the Huffington Post.
The findings are early and the scientists warned not to take too much from this one test.
“Even as young as five weeks of age, children are already individuals with their own preferences, abilities and emotional styles,” she said. “All infants are drawn to the human face, but some more than others, and it may be that those who are more drawn to objects are less likely to look at their parents’ faces.”
A bright spot in the study’s findings was that parental sensitivity can have a positive affect on preventing antisocial behavior in children.
“Looking at infant behavior and parental responses to those behaviors may provide an important insight into how callous and unemotional behaviors first emerge,” Bedford told HuffPo. “In the longer term this could help us to understand what parental responses may help to promote healthy social-emotional development in both boys and girls.”