Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

Callous-unemotional (CU) traits are associated with deficits in empathy and emotional responses to others. Specifically, CU traits are consistently correlated with under-reactivity to others’ distress cues. However, it is unknown whether CU traits are also associated with more general deficits in emotional reactivity (e.g., to situations involving threat to the self). Further, the relationship between CU traits and the ability to accurately identify others’ emotions is not well established, and prior work often has not considered possible developmental changes in this relationship. To address these questions, the current study recruited a school-based community sample of children from kindergarten, third, and sixth grades and their parents and teachers. Children completed two cognitive, computer-based tasks to assess reactivity to various types of stimuli and accuracy in facial expression recognition, while their teachers completed ratings of level of CU traits and conduct problems. Overall, the results did not support a direct association between CU traits and emotional reactivity to others’ distress or threat situations. However, the association between CU traits and reactivity was moderated by level of conduct problems, such that at low levels of conduct problems, CU traits were negatively associated with reactivity but there was no significant relationship between CU traits and reactivity at high levels of conduct problems. Additionally, CU traits were negatively associated with emotion recognition accuracy and this relationship was not moderated by child age. However, the relationship between CU traits and emotion recognition was moderated by level of conduct problems and the child’s gender, such that at high levels of conduct problems, CU traits were associated with impairments in emotion recognition and CU traits were associated with deficits in emotion recognition specifically for girls. The implications of these findings for future research and clinical work are discussed.

Date

6-24-2019

Committee Chair

Frick, Paul

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