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The investigation of callous-unemotional (CU) traits has been central to contemporary research on child behavior problems, and served as the impetus for inclusion of a specifier for conduct disorder in the latest edition of the official psychiatric diagnostic system. Here, we report results from 2 studies that evaluated the construct validity of callousness as assessed in adults, by testing for affiliated deficits in behavioral and neural processing of fearful faces, as have been shown in youthful samples. We hypothesized that scores on an established measure of callousness would predict reduced recognition accuracy and diminished electocortical reactivity for fearful faces in adult participants. In Study 1, 66 undergraduate participants performed an emotion recognition task in which they viewed affective faces of different types and indicated the emotion expressed by each. In Study 2, electrocortical data were collected from 254 adult twins during viewing of fearful and neutral face stimuli, and scored for event-related response components. Analyses of Study 1 data revealed that higher callousness was associated with decreased recognition accuracy for fearful faces specifically. In Study 2, callousness was associated with reduced amplitude of both N170 and P200 responses to fearful faces. Current findings demonstrate for the first time that callousness in adults is associated with both behavioral and physiological deficits in the processing of fearful faces. These findings support the validity of the CU construct with adults and highlight the possibility of a multidomain measurement framework for continued study of this important clinical construct.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

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Journal Article

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