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Child Killers: Exaggerated?

March 13, 1988

Although I agree with certain viewpoints brought out in "High Risk: Children Without a Conscience" (Book Review, Feb. 21), such as that therapy must be started early (before age 12) in order to be effective and that more emphasis needs to be put on prevention rather than treatment, I disagree with their central premise, which is that incomplete bonding between mother and child is the major factor in causing psychopathic behavior.

I believe, as do many clinical psychologists, that psychopathic behavior is primarily a hereditary condition, caused by a chemical imbalance, which develops before the bonding process even begins, and which is compounded by certain environmental factors, such as parental neglect and abuse. If it was true that insufficient maternal bonding is the leading cause of psychopathic behavior, then half of the adoptive children in this country would be psychopaths, which is, of course, not true.

Also, the book implies that many such youngsters start killing at an early age, like 10 or 11 or 12. This is simply not true, as many psychopaths do not begin killing until they reach their 20s.

I also take exception to the authors' statement that since there is a growing number of psychopaths, "they threaten the fabric of our society." Even though some get a lot of publicity, the number of psychopaths in this country is a very small proportion of the total population. And even though the term psychopath conjures up images of violence and destruction in our minds, actually only a small number of them ever becomes murderers.

I seriously doubt that the psychopathic population is ever going to undermine our society. Unlike gangs and terrorist groups, who often have intricate, tightly knit, well-organized networks, and who are capable of inflicting severe, widespread damage, psychopaths basically operate alone, and therefore, the degree of damage they are able to inflict is more limited in nature. Gangs and terrorist groups therefore pose a much greater threat to society than psychopaths.

KENNETH L. ZIMMERMAN

CYPRESS, CALIF.

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