Research presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science highlights the importance of callous-unemotional traits (CU) in identifying children at risk of antisocial behaviour and other adjustment problems.
The research, presented by Indiana University Bloomington faculty member Nathalie M.G. Fontaine, finds that the emergence of CU traits in childhood is in most cases influenced by genetic factors, especially in boys.
However, environmental factors appear to be more significant for the small number of girls who exhibit high levels of CU traits.
In this first longitudinal study employing a group-based analysis to examine the connection between childhood trajectories of CU traits and conduct problems, researchers found that high levels of both CU traits and conduct problems were associated with negative child and family factors at age 4 and with behavioral problems at age 12.
CU traits, such as a lack of emotion and a lack of empathy or guilt, are exhibited by a small number of children and are associated with persistent conduct problems, which are experienced by 5 percent to 10 percent of children.
"The children with high levels of both CU traits and conduct problems between ages 7 to 12 were likely to present negative predictors and outcomes, including hyperactivity problems and living in a chaotic home environment," said Fontaine, assistant professor of criminal justice in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington. "If we could identify those children early enough, we could help them as well as their families."
The researchers examined data for more than 9,000 twins from the Twins Early Development Study, a data set of twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. Assessments of CU traits and conduct problems were based on teacher questionnaires when the children were 7, 9 and 12. Family-level predictors at age 4 were based on information from parents, and behavioral outcomes at age 12 were based on information from teachers.
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