Callous-Unemotional Traits Modulate Brain Drug Craving Response in High-Risk Young Offenders

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2018 Jul;46(5):993-1009. doi: 10.1007/s10802-017-0364-8.


Adults with psychopathy have a high propensity for substance abuse, generally starting from a young age. This investigation tested hypotheses about differences in the neural responses associated with drug craving among high-risk young offenders with histories of abuse of stimulants and other drugs as a function of psychopathic traits. Fifty-four male adolescents (44 with a history of stimulant abuse and 10 controls) incarcerated at a maximum-security facility (M age = 17.08 years) completed a drug-cue exposure task while brain hemodynamic activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a mobile MRI scanner stationed at the facility. Psychopathic traits were assessed using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV). In the stimulant abuser group, drug cues elicited activity in classic reward circuitry. Consistent with studies of adult psychopathic traits and substance abuse, there was a negative association between PCL-YV scores and hemodynamic response related to drug craving in the amygdala and ACC in youth with a history of stimulant abuse. However, there were considerably more negative associations between the PCL:YV and hemodynamic response among youth than adults and this was primarily due to callous-unemotional traits rather than interpersonal or behavioral traits. The implications for how personality traits modulate motivations for drug-seeking behavior among adolescent offenders are discussed.

Keywords: Brain imaging; Craving, cocaine; Delinquency; Drug abuse; Psychopathic traits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Conduct Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Conduct Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Criminals*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*