Differential associations of early callous-unemotional, oppositional, and ADHD behaviors: multiple domains within early-starting conduct problems?

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;56(6):657-66. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12326. Epub 2014 Sep 24.


Background: Early-starting child conduct problems (CP) are linked to the development of persistent antisocial behavior. Researchers have theorized multiple pathways to CP and that CP comprise separable domains, marked by callous-unemotional (CU) behavior, oppositional behavior, or ADHD symptoms. However, a lack of empirical evidence exists from studies that have examined whether there are unique correlates of these domains.

Methods: We examined differential correlates of CU, oppositional, and ADHD behaviors during the preschool years to test their potentially distinct nomological networks. Multimethod data, including parent and teacher reports and observations of child behavior, were drawn from a prospective, longitudinal study of children assessed at age 3 and age 6 (N = 240; 48% female).

Results: Dimensions of CU, oppositional, and ADHD behaviors were separable within Confirmatory Factor Analyses across mother and father reports. There were differential associations between CU, oppositional, and ADHD behaviors and socioemotional, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes: CU behavior was uniquely related to lower moral regulation, guilt, and empathy. ADHD was uniquely related to lower attentional focusing and observed effortful control. Finally, CU behavior uniquely predicted increases in teacher-reported externalizing from ages 3-6 over and above covariates, and ADHD and oppositional behavior.

Conclusions: Consistent with theory, dimensions of CU, ADHD, and oppositional behavior demonstrated separable nomological networks representing separable facets within early-starting CP.

Keywords: Callous-unemotional; attention deficit/hyperactive; conduct problems; nomological network; oppositional.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Conduct Disorder / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male