Callous traits in children with and without conduct problems predict reduced connectivity when viewing harm to others

Sci Rep. 2016 Feb 2:6:20216. doi: 10.1038/srep20216.


The presence of elevated callous unemotional (CU) traits seems to designate a distinct group of children and adolescents with serious conduct problems. However, the extent to which CU traits impact the aversive reaction to harm is still a contentious issue. Here, we examined the effective connectivity seeded in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex in a large number of children (N = 123, age 9-11, 60 females) with various levels of conduct disorder (CD) symptoms in response to visual stimuli depicting other people being physically injured. Perceiving others being harmed was associated with increased hemodynamic activity in the left amygdala and right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ). Children with higher callous traits showed less functional connectivity seeded in anterior cingulate with left amygdala and anterior insula. Conversely, CD symptoms were positively related to connectivity of insula with rTPJ. Overall, these results suggest that callousness is marked by the disruption of widespread cortical networks responsible for detecting and appropriately responding to important environmental cues, such as the distress of others.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Conduct Disorder / diagnosis
  • Conduct Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Conduct Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable*