Associations of observed callous-unemotional behaviors in early childhood with conduct problems and substance use over 14 years

Meghan Rose Donohue, Caroline P. Hoyniak, Rebecca Tillman, Deanna M. Barch, Joan Luby

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Callous-unemotional (CU) behaviors (i.e., low concern and active disregard for others) uniquely predict severe conduct problems and substance use when present by late childhood. Less is known about the predictive utility of CU behaviors displayed in early childhood, when morality is developing and interventions may be more effective. Children aged 4-7 years (N = 246; 47.6% girls) completed an observational task wherein they were encouraged to tear an experimenter's valued photograph, and blind raters coded children's displayed CU behaviors. During the next 14 years, children's conduct problems (i.e., oppositional defiant and conduct symptoms) and age of onset of substance use were assessed. Compared to children displaying fewer CU behaviors, children displaying greater CU behaviors were 7.61 times more likely to meet criteria for a conduct disorder (n = 52) into early adulthood (95% CI, 2.96-19.59; p = <.0001), and their conduct problems were significantly more severe. Greater CU behaviors were associated with earlier onset of substance use (B = -.69, SE =.32, t = -2.14, p =.036). An ecologically valid observed indicator of early CU behavior was associated with substantially heightened risk for conduct problems and earlier onset substance use into adulthood. Early CU behavior is a powerful risk marker identifiable using a simple behavioral task which could be used to target children for early intervention.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • callous-unemotional
  • conduct problems
  • early childhood
  • observational coding
  • substance use

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