Are Callous-Unemotional Traits Associated with Conflict Adaptation in Childhood?


This study examined associations between childhood callous-unemotional (CU) traits and cognitive control using a conflict adaptation paradigm. Participants were (N = 158) children aged 9 to 12 years (M = 10.42, SD = 1.05; 57 % boys), who completed a modified color-word Stroop task. CU traits and conduct problems were indexed via self-reports on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits. CU traits were found to be uniquely associated with reduced conflict adaptation, however, this significant association was specific to boys. Conversely, conduct problems were associated with increased conflict adaptation, but among girls only. These findings contribute to evidence of atypical goal directed behavior in boys with CU traits by providing preliminary evidence that the specific impairments in cognitive control that characterize these boys include those concerning dynamic adjustments in cognitive control. Findings are discussed in relation to accounts of childhood CU traits based on the Response Modulation hypothesis.