Associations Between Parental Psychopathic Traits, Parenting, and Adolescent Callous-Unemotional Traits

Callous-unemotional (CU) traits (i.e., callousness, low empathy, shallow affect) have been conceptualized as a downward extension of the interpersonal and affective components of adult psychopathy and are associated with stable and severe antisocial behavior. Research suggests that CU traits are moderately heritable, but also influenced by environmental factors, particularly parenting. We examined associations among mother and father psychopathic traits, parenting practices, and offspring CU traits in a community sample of 550 adolescent twins (Mean age = 13.99 years; SD 2.37; 56.4% male), incorporating multiple informants (mothers, fathers, child). Parental interpersonal-affective psychopathic traits were associated with adolescent CU traits and negative parenting (increased harshness, reduced warmth). Moreover, increased parental harshness and reduced warmth partially explained associations between parental interpersonal-affective traits and adolescent CU traits. There was also a significant direct effect specifically between mother interpersonal-affective traits and adolescent CU traits. Finally, using a twin difference design, we confirmed that adolescent CU traits were significantly impacted by non-shared environmental parenting influences (increased harshness, reduced warmth). These results suggest that mother and father interpersonal-affective traits appear to impact parenting practices and serve as risk factors for adolescent CU traits. However, many of the findings did not replicate when using cross-informant reports and were only present within single informant models, highlighting a role for shared informant variance as well. The results suggest the importance of accounting for parent personality in the development of effective parenting interventions for CU traits.

Dotterer HL, Burt SA, Klump KL, Hyde LW. Associations Between Parental Psychopathic Traits, Parenting, and Adolescent Callous-Unemotional Traits. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol. 2021 Jun 21. doi: 10.1007/s10802-021-00841-w. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34152500.

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