Letter: Roots of violence

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Because cruelty to animals is retrospectively found to have occurred in the majority of violent children, this does not mean that for most children cruel to animals, later violence to other people can be predicted ("Killers' animal instincts", 13 October). It is well known that the majority of seriously antisocial adults had conduct disorders in childhood, but only about 50 per cent of conduct-disordered children will turn into seriously antisocial people.

Until effective preventive measures are discovered, it may be counterproductive to predict future violence in children who mistreat animals, only some of whom will later show such behaviour. Such a prediction is likely to confirm for them, their parents and teachers a belief in their own future dangerousness and may set up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One other point needs to be made: it is not true that violence in childhood and later life inevitably points to a disturbed upbringing. There are constitutional factors, rare but important, which can result in aggressive and antisocial behaviour in children from harmonious homes.


(Child Psychiatrist)