Heritable temperament pathways to early callous-unemotional behaviour

Br J Psychiatry. 2016 Dec;209(6):475-482. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.116.181503. Epub 2016 Oct 20.


Background: Early callous-unemotional behaviours identify children at risk for antisocial behaviour. Recent work suggests that the high heritability of callous-unemotional behaviours is qualified by interactions with positive parenting.

Aims: To examine whether heritable temperament dimensions of fearlessness and low affiliative behaviour are associated with early callous-unemotional behaviours and whether parenting moderates these associations.

Method: Using an adoption sample (n = 561), we examined pathways from biological mother self-reported fearlessness and affiliative behaviour to child callous-unemotional behaviours via observed child fearlessness and affiliative behaviour, and whether adoptive parent observed positive parenting moderated pathways.

Results: Biological mother fearlessness predicted child callous-unemotional behaviours via earlier child fearlessness. Biological mother low affiliative behaviour predicted child callous-unemotional behaviours, although not via child affiliative behaviours. Adoptive mother positive parenting moderated the fearlessness to callous-unemotional behaviour pathway.

Conclusions: Heritable fearlessness and low interpersonal affiliation traits contribute to the development of callous-unemotional behaviours. Positive parenting can buffer these risky pathways.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adoption
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / etiology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / genetics
  • Child, Preschool
  • Conduct Disorder / etiology*
  • Conduct Disorder / genetics
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mothers*
  • Parenting*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / genetics
  • Temperament / physiology*