The Predictor Scale: Predicting and Understanding Behavior Based upon Critical Childhood Experiences
Originally published in CAMFT’s The Therapist magazine, March/April 2014, Volume 26, Issue 2
Faye Snyder, PsyD, LMFT
2014 Annual Conference Presenter
When I taught Developmental Psychology at California State University, Northridge, I took a survey of 107 students, asking one question in two different ways: “What percent of our personality is the result of genetics, and what percent of our personality is the result of parenting?” I continued, “What percent of a serial killer’s actions result from genetic instruction, and what percent of their behavior results from parenting?” I then tabulated the results.
104 out of 107 students wrote it was a 50-50 split, meaning personality and behavior are attributable 50% to genes and 50% to parenting. This was as I suspected.
Forensic evaluators, psychiatrists, psychologists, most mental health practitioners, and even parents, may think similarly. It may be different for marriage and family therapists, since we have a vast education in systems theory and the impact that inter tins have on behaviors. Unfortunately, the premise that 50% of behavior is genetic has a tendency to blind us to evidence as to what experiences lie in a person’s history, especially since there is no concomitant methodology for extracting which behaviors are gene-driven and which behaviors are the result of environment.
Most of the public and even most mental health professionals have not been updated on the opinions of biogeneticists. Many of the authors of the famous Danish and Twin Studies allegedly proving that genes cause schizophrenia have since admitted that it is difficult to create inferences as to genetic causes when environment clearly influences gene expression. A new science of epigenetics holds that environment is the necessary trigger for gene expression.
I wrote across the 25-foot white board, “The degree to which you believe in genetics is the degree to which you cannot see others clearly.” This led to an emotional dialogue between my students and me. As you might imagine, considering their pre disposal to genetic explanations, my students fought pretty hard for genetics, and I learned that I was the only professor of Psychology at CSUN at the time who did not propose, at least in part, genetics as an explanation for personality and behavior. Perhaps this was why I had been invited to teach at CSUN.
It is my contention that where we attribute behavior to genes, we wave our opportunities to respond to a child’s needs by attributing behaviors to something we can’t correct, and when we interpret behavior as evidence of family systems we address the issues behind the symptoms. It’s a win-win. There is no downside to considering only environmental causes for behaviors. Further, the good news is that corrective parenting works and it leads to interventions that prevent or heal. If parents can’t be enlisted, pharmaceutical interventions are always available.
My students were assigned two essays that would make up 50% of their grade. One assignment was to find a research study allegedly claiming that genes cause some sort of behavior and look for flaws in the research design or conclusions using the list of investigative tools I provided (For example, did they rule out environment or family systems? Was the study replicated or replicable? Did they alter the measures after they got results?). The second essay assignment was to pick a famous or infamous personality and find out about their childhood enough to explain their well-known adult behavior. They would be required to present their chosen personality in class as part of their grade, so all my students could learn from one another.
My lectures contained the material they needed to write their papers. Monday lectures were based on the traditional textbook. I gave them direct instructions on what to memorize to pass the final exam. These were the standard concepts we all had to learn, from Freud’s stages, to Piaget’s stages to Kohlberg’s stages, etc. On Wednesdays, I taught my students The Causal Theory—my theory—the original reason I was invited to teach at CSUN. It was then they learned how personalities are created by parenting (rather than genetics), including serial killers, rapists, schizophrenics, bipolar personalities, borderlines, and narcissists. Students also learned how the same essential ingredients worked in reverse and they could see how to raise a leader, a genius or “saint.” You could understand a person by their critical childhood experiences. This is the essence of the Causal Theory, which is a theory of cause and effect. There are critical childhood experiences that have long-lasting effects on personality, something supported by the most replicated research on behavior.
The time came when my students were expected to give their presentations. Despite having spent over 16 hours teaching the Causal Theory, I could see that they were lost. Most of them looked for reasons like corporal punishment or failure to discipline as explanations for psychopathology. Some found sexual abuse in their subjects, but abuse and neglect does not a killer make. I realized how academic my presentation had been and that the template in my head was just that, only in my head.
I walked up to the board and sketched a chart, visually illustrating for the first time my own mental process when I form forensic hypotheses. From then on, they had it. I had spontaneously created the Predictor Scale and Score Sheet. After that, my students had epiphanies right and left, and they started asking if they could write up another case, sometimes even offering to present on themselves. Before my eyes, having put genetics aside, they were excited about the insights they were gaining into people’s personalities, including their own.
Since then, with an intent to supply the missing piece for mental health professionals, school counselors, judges, attorneys and parents, I have subsequently published The Predictor Scale: Predicting and Understanding Behavior Based upon Critical Childhood Experiences, upon which this peer presentation will be based.
The Predictor Scale contains both the Predictor Scale and a Score Sheet template. The Predictor Scale is similar to an IQ scale, except that it measures mental health. The top score is 150 and the bottom score is -150. At the top are the extraordinary leaders, the geniuses, saints, the greats and the enlightened ones: Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha, Nelson Mandela, and Malala. At the bottom are mass murderers, serial killers and genocidal personalities. Zero is the midpoint score, typical for a person who experienced an average childhood. I provide examples on every level. It is my premix that the healthiest human beings, knowable by their extraordinary capacities to lead and inspire, and the worst childhoods produce the most unhealthy and deadly behaviors amongst us.
The Score Sheet is a more developed version of the chart I scratched on the board in class that day. It is one simple page, and instructions are just as simple. We rate attachment, discipline techniques, abuse, blaming behavior, and their repression ethic (which keeps them from processing injuries). Line items in the chart are weighted for importance. For example, sexual abuse of a young child is far more traumatic and long lasting than sexual abuse of a teen, and the frequency and intensity of the abuse are factors, too. The last item on the score sheet is “Modifiers,” which addresses mitigators and compounders, adult experiences like therapy or drug abuse, and the impact they have on modifying the personality. Included are about 25 vignettes like the ones assigned to my students that provide examples of how to understand and evaluate someone. Among others, I’ve completed Predictor Score Sheets for Adolph Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Adam Lanza, and Amanda Knox, all based upon limited information.
The presumption is that the results are illuminating to the degree that the information we have is correct. When we don’t have a match between the Score Sheet and the Scale, we may want to ask more questions because we are very likely missing something. None of the evaluations can be 100% accurate, as we will never know a person’s complete history. However, this tool is guaranteed to dramatically improve the way most people understand behavior and appreciate parenting. Further, it would introduce inter-rater reliability between forensic evaluators.
This article is an invitation to my lecture, “Predicting Behavior,” at the ungodly hour of 8 am on Sunday, May 4th, the last day of CAMFT’s 50th Anniversary Conference. We will have Score Sheets for you to practice, based on short vignettes we’ll provide. You will have the opportunity to learn what your clients should know, what parents should know, and what evaluators should know about how to make a personality, how to understand a person, how to most efficiently raise a child, and how to predict future behavior. This information breaks down resistance in a client and it inspires new choices and self-correction. It appears to me that without such clarity we are not just trying to see through a fog, but we are also trying to tie our shoelaces with online hand.
If you are hung up on the genetics issue, please read The Predictor Scale with an open mind and consider my challenges to the most influential research studies that support the myth that half of behavior is genetic, especially the Twin and Danish studies. I can direct you straight to the flaws of the studies.
Also provided in The Predictor Scale is a checklist that empowers you to question any study you may want to review. I believe I can prove to you that there is no replicated evidence to support genetic instructions for behaviors of individuals. There are some genetic instructions directing the behaviors of all human beings, but no genes have been isolated to explain any personality differences between us. None. Until replicable evidence exists for gene-driven behavior, we’d best observe evidence-based practices.
In all the family systems, there is no more critical dynamic than one between paren and child. Imagine what it would be like if all parents understood that how their children turn out depends upon some essential childhood experiences, and that providing these experiences can be very rewarding for the parents too.
I am a forensic evaluator, a psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist. I believe that marriage and family therapists are the vanguard of all the mental health professions. My MFT education was my most fruitful education; it had the best theory. We MFTs pioneer in natural cures and we can pioneer in prevention too, because we work with systems—causal systems. We can even teach parents how to raise their children for greatness. It’s a whole new day.
Faye Snyder, PsyD, is the founder and clinical director of the Parenting and Relationship Counseling Foundation (PaRC) and author of The Manual: The Definitive Book on Parenting and the Causal Theory.