BRAIN scans can be used to identify children who may be budding psychopaths, research has shown.
Their brains show reduced activity in response to images of others in pain. The regions affected are those known to play a role in empathy.
Scientists say the patterns could act as a marker, singling out children at risk of becoming adult psychopaths.
A total of 55 boys aged 10 to 16 were assessed in the study.
Of these, 37 met the criteria for children with "conduct problems" (CP).
CP children display a plethora of antisocial traits, including aggression and dishonesty.
"Our findings indicate that children with conduct problems have an atypical brain response to seeing other people in pain," psychologist Professor Essi Viding from University College London said.
"It is important to view these findings as an indicator of early vulnerability, rather than biological destiny."
About 5pc of children qualify for a diagnosis of CP, but little is known about the condition's underlying cause.
Participants underwent functional MRI scans while being shown images of other people's hands and feet in painful and non-painful situations.
A distinct difference was seen in the brain responses of children with and without CP.