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The aim of this study was to investigate several emotional characteristics and their associations with callous–unemotional (CU) traits in a large non-referred sample of Italian middle school children in 6th and 8th grades (n = 540; M = 12 years and 7 months, SD = 1 year and 3 months). These associations were tested controlling for school behavior problems and testing for the potential moderating role of sex and grade level. The results indicated that CU traits, but not school behavior problems, were negatively associated with problems in both emotional and cognitive empathy. Further, peer ratings of emotionality indicated that, contrary to findings from past research using a child’s self-report of emotions, peers perceive lower levels of fear in students with higher levels of behavior problems but not in those with higher levels of CU traits. Peer ratings of anger were associated with both CU traits and school behavior problems. Further, students with higher levels of CU traits self-reported poorer skills in recognizing their own and others emotions and poorer skills in regulating their emotions. However, in this sample of middle school students, CU traits were not strongly related to problems in accurate identification of facial emotions and the few associations that were found (i.e., reduced accuracy in identifying happy and fear faces) were only found for children in the 6th grade. These findings have important implications for understanding how children with scholastic behavior problems may be different in their emotional deficits depending on the presence of elevated levels of CU traits.

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Journal Article

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