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      Fearlessness and low social affiliation as unique developmental precursors of callous-unemotional behaviors in preschoolers

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          Abstract

          Background

          Early callous-unemotional (CU) behaviors identify children at risk for severe and persistent aggression and antisocial behavior. Recent work suggests that fearlessness and low social affiliation are implicated in the etiology of CU behaviors, although more research is needed to clarify these etiological pathways, as well as the role of parenting.

          Method

          Using a sample of preschoolers ( N = 620), we examined pathways between observed fear in response to social and non-social stimuli and observed social affiliation during social interactions at age 3 and increases child CU behaviors and oppositional-defiant behaviors from ages 3 to 5. To elucidate the role of parenting in exacerbating or buffering the relationships between low fear and social affiliation and CU behaviors, we tested whether parental harshness or low warmth moderated these pathways.

          Results

          Fearlessness and low social affiliation uniquely predicted increases in CU behaviors, but not oppositional-defiant behaviors, from ages 3 to 5. Moreover, there was evidence for differential moderation of the fear pathway by harsh parenting, such that harsh parenting predicted increases in CU behaviors in fearless children but increases in oppositional-defiant behaviors in fearful children.

          Conclusions

          Fearlessness and low social affiliation contribute to the development of CU behaviors. Harsh parenting can exacerbate the risky fearlessness pathway. Preventative interventions aimed at reducing risk for CU behaviors and persistent aggression and antisocial behavior should target socioaffiliative processes and provide parents with strategies and training to manage and scaffold rule-compliant behavior when children show low fearful arousal.

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          Most cited references 32

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          The reliability of a two-item scale: Pearson, Cronbach, or Spearman-Brown?

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            Triarchic conceptualization of psychopathy: developmental origins of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness.

            The clinical concept of psychopathy ("psychopathic personality") is generally considered to entail persistent behavioral deviancy in the company of emotional-interpersonal detachment. However, longstanding debates continue regarding the appropriate scope and boundaries of the concept. Here, we review alternative historic descriptions of the disorder together with empirical findings for the best-established assessment instruments in use with adolescents and youth as a basis for formulating an integrative, triarchic model of psychopathy. The essence of the triarchic model is that psychopathy encompasses three distinct phenotypic constructs: disinhibition, which reflects a general propensity toward problems of impulse control; boldness, which is defined as the nexus of social dominance, emotional resiliency, and venturesomeness; and meanness, which is defined as aggressive resource seeking without regard for others ("dysaffliated agency"). These differing phenotypic components are considered in terms of relevant etiologic and developmental pathways. The triarchic conceptualization provides a basis for reconciling and accommodating alternative descriptive accounts of psychopathy, and a framework for coordinating research on neurobiological and developmental processes contributing to varying manifestations of the disorder.
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              Annual research review: A developmental psychopathology approach to understanding callous-unemotional traits in children and adolescents with serious conduct problems.

              Recent research has suggested that the presence of significant levels of callous-unemotional (CU) traits designates a clinically important and etiologically distinct subgroup of children and adolescents with serious conduct problems. Based on this research, CU traits have been included in the most recent revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5th Edition (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013)--as a specifier for the diagnosis of conduct disorder. In this review, we attempt to understand CU traits within a developmental psychopathological framework. Specifically, we summarize research on the normal development of the prosocial emotions of empathy and guilt (i.e., conscience) and we illustrate how the development of CU traits can be viewed as the normal development of conscience gone awry. Furthermore, we review research on the stability of CU traits across different developmental periods and highlight factors that can influence this stability. Finally, we highlight the implications of this developmental psychopathological framework for future etiological research, for assessment and diagnostic classification, and for treatment of children with serious conduct problems.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Psychological Medicine
                Psychol. Med.
                Cambridge University Press (CUP)
                0033-2917
                1469-8978
                December 26 2019
                : 1-9
                Article
                10.1017/S003329171900374X
                fa5eb8b8-7e41-4010-aba9-eecc3523b8c9
                © 2019

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