What do others feel? Cognitive empathy deficits explain the association between callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems among preschool children
SourceEuropean Journal of Developmental Psychology
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Callous-unemotional traits (CU) are a risk factor for antisocial behavior, although it is unclear whether deficits in affective or cognitive empathy explain this association. Using a multi-informant approach involving data collection from parents and teachers (N = 167, M age = 4.7 years), the current study aimed to test whether cognitive or affective empathy deficits account for the association between CU traits and antisocial behavior among preschool children. Results revealed that cognitive, but not affective, empathy was associated with both CU and conduct problems, and also mediated the relationship between CU traits and conduct problems. These findings were not replicated for overt and relational aggressive behavior. Our findings suggest that cognitive empathy deficits may be more important than affective empathy in explaining antisocial behavior in preschool children. As a result, interventions aiming to reduce conduct problems early in development may need to target difficulties in understanding what others are thinking or feeling.