There was a good article in the March British Journal of Psychiatry by Dadds and colleagues on empathy, psychopathy and lack of eye contact in children. See Dadds et al doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.085720 .
Dadds also appeared on a recent ABC 21 Catalyst program.
In essence, kids with callous-unemotional traits do poor eye contact, and this is independent of maternal behaviour. Interestingly, their FATHERS also tend to do poor eye contact, and score high on the PPI ( Psychopathic Personality Inventory) fearlessness subscale. fMRI studies also show that the kid’s amygdala are also dysfunctional, don’t light up as much as normals.
Now if your brain is Right Wing wired, you will immediately say “see, I told you so, it is all genetic”.
In fact, it is only partly genetic, because you get something similar in orphanage kids, and an article by Rutter in the same issue March issue of BJP discusses this.
But more to the point, even if you could “correct” it with a gene transplant, that is only step One.
Environmental influences would still have to play their part in pushing genotypy to phenotypy (behavioural expression).
And in fact you can do this WITHOUT genetic tampering.
Dadds has a brillliant program which teaches mums (or other carers) to encourage/develop better eye contact in their “callous-unemotional” kids, from a very young age (4 or less !!!). Of course, those of you who have read their Porges (Polyvagal theory…….how the lateral Nucleus Ambiguus part of the vagus is wired into the face and eyes, and therefore influenced by eye contact), or their Dan Siegel (get the eye contact and facial/gestural/prosodic interactions going, and achieve the same effect of encouraging “theory of mind” , empathy and compassion) .. …will realise immediately that there is a lot that can be done simply cheaply and in the here and now, without having to wait for some US company to patent the psychopathy gene.
But how to get this across to the wider public ? The Politics of nurturance indeed.