Are Attentional Deficits Associated with Callous/Unemotional Traits in Children with Conduct Problems? An Examination of Response Modulation
Haas, Sarah M.
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Over a decade's worth of research has shown that callous and unemotional (CU) traits--traits that refer to a shallow range of emotions including low empathy and a lack of guilt and/or remorse--identify a severe subgroup of children with conduct problems (CP) and meaningfully influence outcomes associated with CP. The extant literature suggests that different core processes underlie the behaviors of children with CP with and without CU traits, but research examining CU-related core processes in childhood remains limited. A disrupted response modulation (RM) process, which reflects an inability to attend towards cues or information that is outside of an individual's attentional focus, has been demonstrated as a CU-related core process in adults and adolescents. The purpose of the proposed study was to examine if a disrupted RM process was specific to CU traits in childhood. Participants were sixty-three children recruited from a community sample or from a clinic-referred sample ( M age=9.15, SD=1.56). Using an extreme groups approach, participants were divided into controls ( n =16), CP/ADHD-only ( n =23), and CP/ADHD-CU ( n =24) children. These groups were compared on multiple tasks designed to measure the RM process. The results showed that measures of RM did not differ between groups, although children with CP/ADHD-CU exhibited a general disposition for long reaction times across tasks and trial types (i.e., incongruent, neutral, congruent). The implications of these findings are discussed.