Observed fearlessness and positive parenting interact to predict childhood callous-unemotional behaviors among low-income boys

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017 Mar;58(3):282-291. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12666. Epub 2016 Dec 5.


Background: Callous-unemotional behaviors identify children at risk for severe and chronic antisocial behavior. Research is needed to establish pathways from temperament and parenting factors that give rise to callous-unemotional behaviors, including interactions of positive versus harsh parenting with child fearlessness.

Methods: Multimethod data, including parent reports and observations of parent and child behavior, were drawn from a prospective, longitudinal sample of low-income boys (N = 310) with assessments at 18, 24, and 42 months, and at ages 10-12 years old.

Results: Parent-reported callous-unemotional, oppositional, and attention-deficit factors were separable at 42 months. Callous-unemotional behaviors at 42 months predicted callous-unemotional behaviors at ages 10-12, accounting for earlier oppositional and attention-deficit behaviors and self-reported child delinquency at ages 10-12. Observations of fearlessness at 24 months predicted callous-unemotional behaviors at 42 months, but only when parents exhibited low observed levels of positive parenting. The interaction of fearlessness and low positive parenting indirectly predicted callous-unemotional behaviors at 10-12 via callous-unemotional behaviors at 42 months.

Conclusions: Early fearlessness interacts with low positive parenting to predict early callous-unemotional behaviors, with lasting effects of this person-by-context interaction on callous-unemotional behaviors into late childhood.

Keywords: Callous-unemotional; parenting; psychopathy; temperament.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Conduct Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Prognosis