The better of two evils? Evidence that children exhibiting continuous conduct problems high or low on callous-unemotional traits score on opposite directions on physiological and behavioral measures of fear
PublisherCambridge University Press
SourceDevelopment and psychopathology
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The present study examines whether heterogeneous groups of children identified based on their longitudinal scores on conduct problems (CP) and callous-unemotional (CU) traits differ on physiological and behavioral measures of fear. Specifically, it aims to test the hypothesis that children with high/stable CP differentiated on CU traits score on opposite directions on a fear-fearless continuum. Seventy-three participants (M age = 11.21; 45.2% female) were selected from a sample of 1,200 children. Children and their parents completed a battery of questionnaires assessing fearfulness, sensitivity to punishment, and behavioral inhibition. Children also participated in an experiment assessing their startle reactivity to fearful mental imagery, a well-established index of defensive motivation. The pattern of results verifies the hypothesis that fearlessness, assessed with physiological and behavioral measures, is a core characteristic of children high on both CP and CU traits (i.e., receiving the DSM-5 specifier of limited prosocial emotions). To the contrary, children with high/stable CP and low CU traits demonstrated high responsiveness to fear, high behavioral inhibition, and high sensitivity to punishment. The study is in accord with the principle of equifinality, in that different developmental mechanisms (i.e., extremes of high and low fear) may have the same behavioral outcome manifested as phenotypic antisocial behavior. © Cambridge University Press 2015.