Researchers in New South Wales are on the hunt for ‘psychopathic’ pre-schoolers. Apparently, they have created a ‘diagnostic tool’ in which young children are shown images, either ‘distressing’ or ‘neutral’, in order to classify the child as either ‘healthy’ or ‘callous’ on the basis of their responses. The 10% of children who were found to be ‘unemotional’ can be targeted for early intervention.
Never mind that the category of ‘child psychopath’ is non-existent. Never mind, also, that the idea that images can be self-evidently ‘neutral’ or ‘distressing’ is pure flight of fancy on the part of researchers, who did not study the child subjects’ internal worlds in sufficient detail to know what they find neutral or distressing. Never mind that the children in question are not being examined because of some particular offensive behaviour, but for their very subjectivity itself. (They are rather like the protagonist of Camus’ L’Étranger, who is deemed a monster because he did not cry at his mother’s funeral). Never mind that there could be multiple explanations for why a child does not emote in a ‘healthy’ way in the face of a given stimulus.
The researchers speak of ‘treatment’, but there is no suggestion in the article that this is desired, either by the children or the parents. The treatment in question is explicitly linked to questions of criminality, to the risk of criminality. As such, it is quite clear that the clinicians are using their position to enforce a series of judicial functions. There is a pre-emptive policing (detection) of the pathological subject, a judgement (diagnosis) and sentencing (treatment) for the child with criminal subjectivity, irrespective of his or her actual behaviour. The children must be scrutinised under the gaze of medical professionals with post-graduate skills in behavioural statistics, and pre-Pre-Socratic skills in metaphysics. They are maintaining the social order, and consequently, doing politics and ideology, not therapy.
The media piece gives no indication that the researchers have considered in the slightest the ethical and epistemological implications of their work.