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Roots and Wings

The link between animal cruelty and antisocial personality disorders

/ 03:50 AM October 06, 2013

This week’s viral video had many netizens in an uproar, myself included.

The video showed three young women crushing a puppy to death with their feet. It elicited much furor over social media sites, and has led to discussion about compassion, cruelty to animals and antisocial personality disorder, the roots of which can often be found in childhood.

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As a dog lover, I could not bring myself to watch the video. The screenshots themselves were enough to rile and revolt my insides. In seeking to understand the disturbing act, I turned to several sources and found some answers.

Broader sympathies

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According to the National PTA Congress: “Children trained to extend justice, kindness and mercy to animals become more just, kind and considerate in their relations to each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of broader sympathies; more humane, more law-abiding, in every respect more valuable citizens.”

The PTA, a US-based organization founded in 1897 as the National Congress of Mothers by Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, is a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education.

Young children, assuming they are raised in a healthy and loving environment, identify with animals. Since animals are living beings like us, we use our interactions with them to teach children how to behave toward other people. Teaching children to respect and protect animals—and, yes, even insects (except harmful ones, of course)—is an important life lesson we can pass along to them, by teaching them the value of life and how one must turn away from violence.

The viral video, which was apparently made in 2011 and uploaded to a porn site (which makes the case even more disturbing), forces one to ask how what the young women did—assuming they were coerced into such behavior—would affect their adult lives. Decades of evidence have shown that a child’s attitude toward animals can predict future behavior. According to published reports, in every highly publicized school shooting, one warning sign has appeared consistently: All the young killers abused or killed animals before turning on their classmates.

Three symptoms

An article titled “Teaching Children Compassion” says that, according to FBI profilers, psychiatric professionals, law-enforcement officials and child advocacy organizations, people who hurt animals may eventually direct violence toward humans. Cruelty to animals is considered one of three symptoms that predict the development of a psychopath, and it is included as a criterion for a conduct disorder in children by the American Psychiatric Association.

People who are capable of such inhumane acts have a severely underdeveloped sense of empathy. They lack the ability to comprehend or care about the distress or agony they are causing.

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According to psychiatrist Dr. Rene Samaniego, cruelty to animals is an early sign and part of the symptom triad of conduct disorder, which may later develop into psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder (along with fire-setting and bed-wetting in children).

“Scientifically speaking, if they are indeed all antisocial personalities, there should be other symptoms like brushes with the law, lack of remorse, etc. From the psychiatric perspective, the main approach for psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder is psychotherapy more than pharmacotherapy or medications.”

Reports on social media say the couple responsible for the video has been caught. But the deeper question is, what has happened to those three girls?

Mental condition

The Mayo Clinic defines antisocial personality disorder as a type of chronic mental condition in which a person’s ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional and destructive. People with antisocial personality disorder typically have no regard for right and wrong and often disregard the rights, wishes and feelings of others.

Antisocial personality disorder symptoms may begin in childhood and are fully evident for most people during their 20s and 30s. In children, cruelty to animals, bullying behavior, impulsivity or explosions of anger, social isolation and poor school performance may be, in some cases, early signs of the disorder.

Personality, which is the combination of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that makes everyone unique, is shaped by two factors—genetics and environment. Genetics are inherited tendencies, sometimes called temperament. Environment encompasses a person’s surroundings, events that he or she has experienced, relationships with family members and others, and life situations such as the type of parenting a person went through, whether it was loving or abusive.

Personality disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of these genetic and environmental influences. Some people may have genes that make them vulnerable to developing antisocial personality disorder, and life situations that may trigger its development.

October, aside from being Breast Cancer Month, is also Mental Health Month. The video’s appearance is quite timely; it reminds us how little we know about the ways in which our earliest experiences in life and our genes play a huge role in the way we are and what we become.

Rather than condemn, or be resigned to one’s fate, there is always the possibility of prevention and intervention. The key lies in acceptance, and in surrounding oneself with the support and love of family and friends who would understand.

Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cathybabao.

8 ways to raise pet-loving children

1. Treat your pets with respect. Feed and care for them as you would another human being. Listen to yourself with new ears—don’t yell, “shut up,” “stupid dog” or other hurtful things.

2. The cardinal rule: Never hit animals.

3. Include your animals in your life. Allow your dog to live inside with the family, and spend time with your animal companions daily, brushing them, playing with them, and walking them.

4. Sometimes, tiny creatures wander into our homes; help them find their way out nonviolently.

5. Avoid statements that demean animals, even those made in jest, such as “I hate cats,” or, “chickens are stupid.”

6. Remember that toys influence children. Don’t buy toys that even hint at animal exploitation, such as video games that allow children to kill animals.

7. Watch animal-friendly movies such as “Bambi,” “The Lady and the Tramp,” “Shiloh,” “Free Willy,” “Babe,” “My Dog Skip,” “Finding Nemo” and “Shark Tale.”

8. Read your children books that show animals as feeling individuals, such as “Lassie Come Home,” “Black Beauty,”  “Charlotte’s Web,” “Frederick, Blueberries for Sal,” “The Forgotten Door” and “Make Way for Ducklings.”

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TAGS: Animal Cruelty, animal rights, National PTA Congress, Netizens, Personality Disorders
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