Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



One of the defining features of callous-unemotional (CU) traits is a lack of distress or care about performance in important activities or the negative effects of one’s behavior on others. However, recent research has found a significant relationship between CU traits and loneliness, suggesting individuals with elevated CU traits may be aware of impaired social functioning and care about their performance in social relationships. Given this somewhat surprising finding, the current study sought to identify possible explanations for this association. Specifically, we tested the following potential mediators of the relationship between CU traits and loneliness: peer rejection, relationship quality, social connectedness (societal and interpersonal), and maladaptive narcissistic traits. Participants were 482 college students (Mage = 20.33 years; SD = 2.18) who reported on these various social experiences and characteristics, as well as CU traits and subjective experiences of loneliness. Results revealed a significant association between CU traits and loneliness, as expected, and controlling for antisocial behavior. Further, peer rejection, relationship quality, and both societal and interpersonal social connectedness each partially mediated this relationship and fully mediated the association when entered into a model together. The only hypothesized mediator that did not show significant indirect effects was maladaptive narcissistic traits, which results revealed was associated with CU traits but not loneliness. Together, these findings suggest that the reasons individuals with elevated CU traits experience loneliness may be similar to the reasons those with normative CU traits experience loneliness. Importantly, findings also advance causal theories of CU traits and identify areas of intervention for these individuals, who are at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes.



Committee Chair

Frick, Paul J.



Available for download on Thursday, July 11, 2024