Running on Ritalin: A Physician Reflects on Children, Society, and Performance in a Pill

Lawrence H. Diller (Author)

In a book as provocative and newsworthy as Listening to Prozac and Driven to Distraction, a physician speaks out on America’s epidemic level of diagnoses for attention deficit disorder, and on the drug that has become almost a symbol of our times: Ritalin.  

In 1997 alone, nearly five million people in the United States were prescribed Ritalin–most of them young children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.  Use of this drug, which is a stimulant related to amphetamine, has increased by 700 percent since 1990.  And this phenomenon appears to be uniquely American: 90 percent of the world’s Ritalin is used here.  Is this a cause for alarm–or simply the case of an effective treatment meeting a newly discovered need? Important medical advance–or drug of abuse, as some critics claim?

Lawrence Diller has written the definitive book about this crucial debate–evenhanded, wide-ranging, and intimate in its knowledge of families, schools, and the pressures of our speeded-up society.  As a pediatrician and family therapist, he has evaluated hundreds of children, adolescents, and adults for ADD, and he offers crucial information and treatment options for anyone struggling with this problem.  

Running on Ritalin also throws a spotlight on some of our most fundamental values and goals.  What does Ritalin say about the old conundrums of nature vs.  nurture, free will vs.  responsibility? Is ADD a disability that entitles us to special treatment? If our best is not good enough, can we find motivation and success in a pill? Is there still a place for childhood in the performance-driven America of the late nineties?





A multitude of studies have found that kids with “callous and unemotional” traits (CU traits) are more likely than other kids (three times more likely, in one study) to turn into criminals, or display psychopathic qualities in their adult life (Hagerty, 2017). Such children are found to be uncaring, shallow in their emotions and insincere. This article tries to provide your some simple questions that could help you identify such traits. Any parent should be vigilant to their child’s behaviour and identify these risk factors as early as possible. Studies have been done on children right from babies to adolescent teenagers. Here are the findings.


There are several tests called “projective tests” and are designed to allow a person to react to a certain stimuli, and their response reveals hidden emotions or internal conflicts. These tests believe that humans have conscious and unconscious motivations. Such tests are indirect, reduce the chances of someone faking a response and primarily do not depend on verbal abilities. Some of these tests are “Draw-A-Person Test”, which is a psychological projection test for children; “The Hand Test”, which uses cards; “Szondi test”, which is nonverbal personality test to measure hsyteria, paranoia and maniac tendencies (Soley & Smith, 2008). In addition to psychological analysis, these tests find applications in recruitment, marketing and business.

Numerology and Graphology are other popular pseudo-scientific techniques. Numerology is based on the idea that human life is guided by numbers. Its origins date as far back as to civilisations like Babylon, Egypt, China, India and Greece. A numerologist is known to assess a person’s personality with things like your birthdate and full name (Buchanan, 2015).

Graphology analyses the patterns of handwriting to identify the personality characteristics of the writer. Graphology is different from graphonalysis, which involves forensic document examination to identify authorship through comparisons with a known standard. Graphology finds applications in recruitment where it can complement, but not replace regular hiring tools. Graphology has also been used in psychological analysis, marital compatibility and medical diagnosis (Friedman & Schustack, 1999).

Although these tests have found success, there are questions on their validity since they need to be administered by qualified psychologists and test interpretation is highly subjective (Husbands, 1993).


The Babylab has done some interesting tests on 3-5 month babies. The tests were non-verbal and studies the babies’ ability to know good and bad. Five month babies seemed to have a higher sense of morality as compared to 3 months old babies. This probably suggests that (1) babies are born with a sense of morality (2) the sense of morality fades as they grow older (Adkin, 2017; Wynn & Bloom, 2013).

Surprisingly, a simple “red ball test” can assess the emotions of babies (Buglar, 2015). Psychologists used a red ball to track the visual preferences of 213 five-week-old babies, to see if they preferred interacting with an object or a human face. Those who favoured the ball displayed more callous traits two and a half years later. It’s too early to tell whether the child’s visual preference for a red ball over a human face is linked to psychopathic traits (Bedford, Pickles, Sharp, Wright, & Hill, 2015).


Empathy, unlike sympathy, is the ability to feel and understand someone else’s emotions. A lack of empathy, remorse, or guilt, shallow emotions, aggression, acts of cruelty and indifference to punishment is seen as predictors of developing psychopathic traits in later life (Hagerty, 2017).

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does your child feels bad or guilty when he/she does something wrong?
  2. Does your child feel empathy towards those hurt? Is your child unconcerned about the feelings of others?
  3. Does your child try to help when someone is hurt? Is your child selfish or won’t share with others? For example, gives a toy.
  4. Do you feel the child is unable to connect emotionally with his/ her peers, family members, etc.? Does your child seem unresponsive to affection? Does your child show little affection toward people?

Examples of excessive behaviour include ripping the head off his/ her favourite teddy bear, slashing the tires on the family car, starting fires, and killing a pet.

  1. Did you notice any unusual or excessive aggression and cruelty in any behaviour? Is your child cruel to animals?

Indifference suggests a lack of interest or emotion.

  1. Does your child seem to be indifferent to punishment? Punishment doesn’t change his/her behaviour?
  2. Does your child show too little fear of getting hurt?


Committing a crime, even when alone, reflects an interior impulse toward harm.

  1. Does the child commit crime while alone without the pressure of peers?

Different types of crime show criminal versatility and are linked to future psychopathy.

  1. Does the child commit different types of crime in different settings?

Kiehl (2015) scanned the brains of inmates at high security prisons to understand the differences between regular convicts and psychopaths. The study identified two abnormalities, which could also occur in the brains of callous children. The first abnormality was noticed in the limbic system, the part that processes emotions. A psychopath’s brain has less grey matter in this are suggesting that the person does not feel or recognise fear in other people’s faces. In other words, they are cold-hearted (Kiehl, 2015).

  1. Can your child understand the emotions of people by looking at their face, especially those faces that display fear or sadness?

The second characteristic of a psychopath is the craving for excitement or rewards is too high. For example, a callous unemotional kid would keep going in a game (video games included) until they lose everything. They are also less likely to learn from their mistakes.

  1. Does your child exhibit the tendency to lose everything he/ she has in a game? Is your child willing to forgo short-term pleasure for long-term gratification?


There are several tests done on children and adults to identify psychopathic traits. These traits tend to highlight that a callous and unemotional person is more likely to become a psychopath. This does not, however, mean that every aggressive child is a future criminal. But statistics suggest the chances are high.

Something as harmless as feeding your child dairy, gluten, soda and sugar could have long-term damage to their emotional development. According to Dr. Bob, the drugless doctor, states that children having diet with high levels of trans fat (partially hydrogenated fat) are at a higher risk of developing depression and ADHD (Attention Deficiency and Hyperactivity disorder) (Dr.Bob, 2017).

As a parent you need to be aware of your children’s behaviour and how well they handle emotions. In case of extreme behaviours it is wise to consult a child psychologist.


2.Adkin, R. (2017, October 30). Which Puppet Do You Like More? Baby Morals. Retrieved 2017, from

3.Bedford, R., Pickles, A., Sharp, H., Wright, N., & Hill, J. (2015). Reduced Face Preference in Infancy: A Developmental Precursor to Callous-Unemotional Traits? Biological Psychiatry , 78 (2), 144–150.

4.Buglar, T. (2015, September 8). ‘Red ball test’ tells if babies will be psychopaths. Retrieved 2017, from The Scotsman:

5.Dr.Bob. (2017). The ADHD and Trans Fat Link. Retrieved 2017, from

6.Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (1999). Personality, Classic Theories and Modern Research (5th ed.). Allyn and Bacon.

7.Hagerty, B. B. (2017, June). When Your Child Is a Psychopath. Retrieved 2017, from The Atlantic:

8.Husbands, R. (1993). Workers’ Privacy Part III: Testing in the workplace. Conditions of work digest , 12 (2).

9.Kiehl, K. A. (2015). The Psychopath Whisperer. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

10.Merchant, G. (2012, October 17). Should We Screen Kids’ Brains and Genes To ID Future Criminals? Retrieved 2017, from

11.Soley, L., & Smith, A. L. (2008). Projective Techniques for Social Science and Business Research. Milwaukee: The Southshore Press.

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