Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Youth and adults with antisocial behavior present a significant mental health concern. Elevated callous-unemotional (CU) traits, characterized by deficient empathy and remorse, distinguish clinically important subgroups of antisocial individuals who present with more severe behavior and distinct cognitive-affective characteristics that may help to explain the underlying causes of their antisocial behavior and inform more effective treatments. Specifically, two mechanisms theorized to underlie the development of elevated CU traits by way of atypical empathy development are deficient reactivity to and recognition of others’ emotions. Though a substantive literature base reports associations between CU traits and emotional processing deficits, significant inconsistencies remain. Specifically, though the association between CU traits and emotional hyporreactivity is found across development, it is less consistent across female samples. In addition, the association between CU traits and emotional recognition deficits is found to waver across age, with findings most consistently reported in younger samples and dissipating-to-disappearing in adolescent-to-adult samples. Thus, the current study utilized multilevel meta-analyses of emotional reactivity and recognition findings that controlled for moderators (sex, age) to clarify past inconsistencies. A four-level meta-analysis of emotional reactivity showed that CU traits were negatively associated with reactivity to broad emotional (r = -.25, p = .003, pbroad < .05, pdistress = .15), such that the association between CU traits and broad recognition deficits weakened as samples got older. These results elucidate the etiology of CU traits, including support for pervasive emotional processing deficits, stronger for hyporreactivity, in both sexes that may change (i.e., recognition abilities) with age, and have implications for improving treatments for both youth and adults with elevated CU traits.



Committee Chair

Paul J. Frick, PhD