Callous-unemotional traits and emotion in a detained adolescent sample: a mixed methods approach

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University of Alabama Libraries

Callous-Unemotional (CU) traits have been found to be useful in identifying youth who display more stable, severe and aggressive behavior and who are at increased risk for early-onset delinquency and later antisocial and delinquent behavior (Frick & Dickens, 2006; Frick & White,2008). Some studies devoted to understanding how youth with CU traits perceive emotional stimuli have found that youth with these traits have deficits in processing fear and distress in others (Frick and White, 2008). However, there is a paucity of research examining the detailed emotional experiences of youth with CU traits. Thus, the current study aimed to provide a richer understanding of the emotional experiences and perceptions of juvenile delinquents with high CU traits by examining how their emotional reactions and experiences may differ from those with low CU traits. Qualitative and quantitative data analyses were conducted to achieve these aims. It was found that a lower proportion of high CU youth, as compared to low CU youth, were able to identify the scared emotion of the photographed individual. No differences were found between groups on their ability to cite an experience for each emotion, or in their perceived emotional intensity for their experiences. High CU youth were more likely to make plans to evoke negative emotions in others for self-enhancement or to reach a specific goal, more so than low CU participants. A higher number of high CU youth reported that they found emotions hard to express, but perceived anger as easy to express, compared to low CU youth. High CU youth also controlled their fear to a greater extent compared to low CU youth. These findings are important as they shed new light on the relation between CU traits and emotion, and suggest that detained adolescents with CU traits may experience emotions such as guilt and fear, but they may prefer to contain their negative emotions from others.

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Clinical psychology