Emotional abilities in children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD): Impairments in perspective-taking and understanding mixed emotions are associated with high callous-unemotional traits.


Most studies of emotion abilities in disruptive children focus on emotion expression recognition. This study compared 74 children aged 4-8 years with ODD to 45 comparison children (33 healthy; 12 with an anxiety disorder) on behaviourally assessed measures of emotion perception, emotion perspective-taking, knowledge of emotions causes and understanding ambivalent emotions and on parent-reported cognitive and affective empathy. Adjusting for child’s sex, age and expressive language ODD children showed a paucity in attributing causes to emotions but no other deficits relative to the comparison groups. ODD boys with high levels of callous-unemotional traits (CU) (n = 22) showed deficits relative to low CU ODD boys (n = 25) in emotion perspective-taking and in understanding ambivalent emotions. Low CU ODD boys did not differ from the healthy typically developing boys (n = 12). Impairments in emotion perceptive-taking and understanding mixed emotions in ODD boys are associated with the presence of a high level of CU.