The Bad Seed: Rhoda’s Personality Disorder

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The Bad Seed directed by Mervyn LeRoy was shot in distant 1956. This is one of the exemplary American psychological thrillers about a schoolgirl who killed three people. Rhoda Penmark who lost a penmanship medal to her schoolmate is much disappointed by this and kills the boy taking away his medal. When the plot of the story unfolds, the viewer discovers that Rhoda also killed a lady in the neighborhood where she and her family used to live earlier.

Moreover, when the janitor in the girl’s house also learns about the murder, Rhoda kills him as well by setting him afire. Such behavior is more than abnormal for a schoolgirl this is why it is evident that Rhoda has some psychological disorder. Taking into account Rhoda’s antisocial behavior that she exhibited throughout the movie (lack of empathy, deceitfulness, and aggressiveness hidden with superficial charm), she can be diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder caused primarily by genetic factors.


What should be mentioned above is that Rhoda is exhibiting antisocial behavior throughout the movie. Her lack of empathy is shown through her not caring much about her murdering Claude. For instance, when her mother learns about the murder and asks Rhoda what made her do it, she simply tells that Claude threatened to tell everyone that she tried to take the medal away from him and killing the boy was her only choice.

This shows that Rhoda had no remorse for the crime she has committed. In addition, she was deceitful. She lied quite verisimilarly when asked where she got the boy’s medal. Besides, Rhoda was aggressive. This can be seen at the beginning of the film when she shows how furious she is about not getting the medal. Lastly, she hides all this with superficial charm; Rhoda is presented as a neat girl in a perfect dress and her hair is made in pigtails.

She seems courteous and well-brought-up with no superficial signs of antisocial behavior. Such a presentation of the girl does not let considering her a murderer, though the actual behavior (or symptoms, to be more exact) that the viewer observes, testify to the fact that Rhoda suffers from Antisocial Personality Disorder.

It is worth stating that Antisocial Personality Disorder is hardly ever observed in individuals younger than 18 years. The individuals are diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder if they have three out of 7 main criteria, such as in conformity with the social norms, lack of empathy and remorse, irritability, aggressiveness, irresponsibility, deceitfulness, and disregard for other people’s safety (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

In cases with individuals younger than 15, conduct disorder is mostly observed. Conduct disorder is characterized by aggression (both physical and verbal), deceitfulness, and stealing. All these manifestations can be found in Rhoda’s behavior. Though she was younger than 15 years, her behavior could hardly be referred to as conduct disorder because, already at her age, she managed to coolly murder three people. Since killing is characteristic of Antisocial Personality Disorder, Rhoda can be diagnosed namely with it.

There is no opportunity to trace the evidence of her conduct disorder prior to the moment when she committed her first murder, but her lack of remorse for killing her neighbor (the fact that no one in the family knew) shows that such behavior was indeed exhibited by the girl before. Taking into account the symptoms and diagnostic criteria, Rhoda can definitely be diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

The last thing to mention is that, in most cases, Antisocial Personality Disorders emerge as the result of poor parenting. The family environment is especially contributing to the development of this disorder; if this environment is not favorable, the child may develop hostility toward society and, consequently, antisocial and destructive behaviors. However, in the case of Rhoda, the family environment was more than favorable; she was surrounded by love and care and her father was a military, which means that abidance by-laws were characteristic for this family. Those were genetic factors that influenced the development of the disorder in the girl.

Rhoda’s maternal grandmother, as the viewer later discovers, was a serial killer. Serial killers suffer most often from Antisocial Personality Disorders or schizophrenia and less often from Narcissistic Personality Disorders. In any way, Rhoda’s Antisocial Personality Disorder is a result of her inherited predisposition, rather than of parenting. Thus, Rhoda’s grandmother’s criminal past and personality disorder contributed to the girl’s developing antisocial behavior and murdering three people at a rather young age.


Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it can be concluded that The Bad Seed presented one of the most unique cases of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Not only did a girl younger than 15 years manage to kill three people, but she, just like her grandmother, developed a personality disorder that is more prevalent with males than with females. Thus, taking into account such symptoms as aggressiveness, deceitfulness, and lack of empathy and remorse, Rhoda can be diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder for which she had inherited predisposition.

Reference List

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

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PsychologyWriting. 2022. "The Bad Seed: Rhoda’s Personality Disorder." January 15, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "The Bad Seed: Rhoda’s Personality Disorder." January 15, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "The Bad Seed: Rhoda’s Personality Disorder." January 15, 2022.