Callous and Unemotional Traits as Precursors to the Development of Female Psychopathy

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Sep 20;20(18):6786. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20186786.


Objective: Conduct a systematic review concerning the literature that reflects whether the callous and unemotional traits present in childhood and/or adolescence are precursors in the development of female psychopathy in adulthood.

Materials and methods: A systematic review involved consulting three databases-EBSCO, the Web of Science, and PubMed-for peer-reviewed and quantitative studies within the period 2000-2023. Nine articles with quality of three and above were included.

Results: The presence of callous and unemotional traits designates a group of youth that show characteristics associated with psychopathy, specifically when predicting a more severe and chronic pattern of antisocial behaviour. Children with high rates of callous and unemotional traits, who show symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in combination with severe conduct problems, are most likely to show features associated with psychopathy. The multidimensional psychopathy construct is considered a better predictor of future and stable antisocial behaviour than the callous and unemotional traits alone model.

Conclusions: According to the studies selected, the callous and unemotional traits in childhood seem to be precursors of female psychopathy in adulthood, but only because of the way they seem to enhance conduct problems, disruptive behaviour disorders, and, as a possible outcome, delinquency and antisocial traits, which may be precursors of future psychopathy.

Keywords: callous and unemotional traits; delinquency; female psychopathy.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder*
  • Child
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Problem Behavior*
  • PubMed

Grants and funding

This research was partially financed by national funds through the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) within the framework of the CIEC (Research Center for Child Studies of the University of Minho) projects under the references UIDB/00317/2020 and UIDP/00317/2020.