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Callous-unemotional traits in children linked with antisocial teen behavior

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According to a recent study presented at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the presence of callous-unemotional (CU) traits in children represents a serious sign of a child at risk for exhibiting later antisocial tendencies in his teen years. Callous-unemotional traits, according tot he Indiana University Bloomington researchers who conducted the experiment, is a primarily male phenomenon, and is overwhelmingly genetic rather than environmental. These tendencies are exhibited as early as age 4, the researchers say, and by age 12, the child is at risk of serious behavioral problems.

Callous-unemotional traits are associated with a lack of empathy, guilt and normal human emotions. While 5-10 percent of children exhibit chronic behavioral problems, only a small percentage of these problem-children exhibit distinct callous-unemotional behavior patterns. If these behavioral characteristics are not addressed early on, they anticipate a high risk of exhibiting symptoms of antisocial personality disorders in later years. These tendencies, the researchers say, are likewise correlated with hyperactivity.

The researchers conducted an important twin study, which included 9,000+ twins. The study consisted of both identical and fraternal twins, shedding important line on the extent to which these behavioral traits are inherited vs. acquired from the environment. The researchers found that in their male subjects, genetics exerted the strongest influence on the onset of these traits, whereas in the small minority of females with such traits, environmental factors played the largest role. While the researchers were careful to note that these traits do not necessarily entail that the children will become psychopathic, they did emphasize the importance of staging early interventions in order to anticipate more serious behavioral problems in later teen years.

Indiana University. (2011, February 21). Callous-unemotional traits, conduct problems in children can lead to antisocial behavior in pre-teens. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 4, 2014 from