The Moderating Role of Maternal CU Traits in the Stability of Justice-Involved Adolescents' CU Traits

Caitlin Cavanagh, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University.
Cortney Simmons, Department of Psychology, Yale University.
Roberta Liggett OMalley, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University.
Paul J. Frick, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University.
Laurence Steinberg, Department of Psychology, Temple University.
Elizabeth Cauffman, Department of Psychological Science, University of California.


OBJECTIVE: Callous-unemotional (CU) traits are associated with chronic and severe antisocial behavior. Although previous research has found that parents play an important role in the etiology and maintenance of youth CU traits, little research has examined the extent that parents' own CU traits impact the stability of their children's CU traits. The present study investigated the moderating role of maternal CU traits on developmental changes in youth CU traits. METHOD: A sample of 346 mother-son dyads, in which all youth were justice-involved males (= 15.81; 57.80% Latino, 20.52% White, 18.21% Black, 3.47% other race/ethnicity), across three states (California, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania) completed a semi-structured interview. RESULTS: Youth exhibited a decrease in CU traits over 30 months. Mothers' CU traits moderated this relation, such that high maternal CU traits were associated with a smaller decrease in CU traits than low or average maternal CU traits, both when considering youth CU traits continuously and using a clinically significant cut score. The findings remained for continuous CU traits even after accounting for environmental factors (i.e., maternal warmth, maternal hostility, victimization, and witnessing violence), and these environmental factors did not vary over time. CONCLUSION: The results highlight the importance of maternal influence in understanding how youth CU traits change over time, and have important implications for the use of parenting and family-level interventions among justice-involved youth.