This week a reader asked about a disorder called ODD and its relationship to sociopathy. ODD or oppositional defiant disorder is a childhood disorder. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists:
In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster’s day to day functioning. Symptoms of ODD may include:
• Frequent temper tantrums
• Excessive arguing with adults
• Often questioning rules
• Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
• Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
• Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
• Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
• Frequent anger and resentment
• Mean and hateful talking when upset
• Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking
I interpret these symptoms as evidence for excessive social dominance motives combined with problems with ability to love in a child/teen. Social dominance motives cause these children to dislike authority and to attempt to control others (both children and adults) by annoying and upsetting them (teasing too). Recent studies have shown that hormones connected to social dominance motives may play a role in ODD (higher androgens and lower cortisol)*.
A major developmental task for humans is to learn to love. That learning begins immediately at birth. A very elegant series of studies by Patricia Hawley Ph.D. and others has demonstrated that Social Dominance motives begin later, in the toddler years.
During childhood the social motives for love and power have to integrate and balance each other. A loving peaceful family life is central to this integration. Also the power motive must be shaped. This shaping of the power motive has two aspects to it. First children learn the best prosocial ways to enjoy power. They learn to restrain their aggressive and sadistic impulses. In children with ODD and CD (the precursors to antisocial personality in adulthood) this learning doesn’t happen.
Children also learn to channel some of their power motives in to achievement motivation. Disinterest for achievement and disinterest in school are linked to antisocial behavior in children and teens because absent achievement dominance motives lack appropriate channels for expression.
ODD is often connected to CD (conduct disorder) and ADHD, but may also occur without these other disorders. Many studies have examined the extent to which ODD is genetic and environmentally determined. Both genes and environment interact to cause ODD.
In a paper that is now 11 years old Distinct Contributions of Conduct and Oppositional Defiant Symptoms to Adult Antisocial Behavior : Evidence From an Adoption Study Douglas R. Langbehn, MD, PhD and colleagues presented their study of 197 adopted children a quarter of whom had a biologic parent with sociopathy. They concluded:
It seems plausible that a genetically transmitted liability to sociopathy might manifest earlier in life as the personality-like symptoms of ODD rather than the behaviorally oriented criteria for conduct disorder. After all, it is difficult to conceive of a gene for stealing cars. On the other hand, genetic influences on temperament leading to typical ODD features do not seem so far-fetched.
They also stated that independent of the antisocial behavior seen in CD, the behavior that manifests as ODD is an independent risk factor for adult sociopathy:
STUDIES SUCH as that by Loeber et al, which found that severe childhood conduct disorder is often preceded by ODD, suggest the hypothesis that ODD may only be a risk factor for sociopathy if it is a predecessor to a conduct syndrome. This idea is not supported by our data, because the ODD component was found to be an independent risk factor. Furthermore, examination of the joint distribution of estimated component scores in males (not shown) demonstrated that many adoptees had elevations in the ODD component only.
It is important for parents to realize that not every child with ODD or even CD becomes an adult sociopath. Parenting can make a difference for a substantial percentage of children. Even the most loving and devoted parents should get professional help with their ODD/CD kids.
Professional help is needed because these kids are so hard on parents and the development of parental resentment and negativity is linked to a bad prognosis for these kids (though the chicken and egg here have not been determined). Parents should be realistic, protect themselves and yet try to stay hopeful and positive. They should be loving and yet set firm limits. They should also spend lots of quality time with their kids and supervise them closely. These are exceedingly difficult tasks to accomplish!
You might be wondering why I haven’t commented on the proposed DSM V revision of antisocial personality. Since we want everyone to give us their unbiased, independent reactions, I am not going to comment until we close the survey. Please complete the survey so we can send the strongest possible message to the DSM committee. These criteria will be very important in legal procedings and in public education.
* I have posted the summaries of articles about Antisocial Disorders, ASPD, ODD and CD on a new web site My Psychology Professor*. This web site is intended to help students of psychology find articles and write term papers. I hope it will also be a source for people who want detailed information about topics in psychology. There is also a complete collection of papers about social dominance on this site.