Sensitivity to parenting in adolescents with callous/unemotional traits: Observational and experimental findings.


Children and adolescents with callous-unemotional (CU) traits have been distinguished as a subset of individuals with disruptive behavioral disorders who may be less sensitive to parenting influence; we test this hypothesis using multiple methods and assessment paradigms. Two hundred seventy-one adolescents (mean age = 12.6 years) from 3 samples at elevated risk for disruptive behavior disorders were studied. Symptoms of CU behavior were derived from standard questionnaire; assessments of behavioral adjustment were derived from clinical interview with parent, and parent-report, teacher-report, and self-report questionnaire. Parent-child relationship quality was based on observational assessments in which adolescent and parent behaviors were rated in 3 interaction tasks: (a) low conflict planning task; (b) problem-solving conflict task; (c) puzzle challenge task; parent interview and parent-report and child-report questionnaires of parenting were also assessed. Results indicated that the associations between parent-child relationship quality and behavioral adjustment were comparable in adolescents with and without CU traits. More notably, observational data indicated that adolescents with elevated CU traits showed comparatively greater within-individual variability in observed angry/irritable behavior across interaction tasks, suggesting greater sensitivity to and emotional dysregulation in challenging interpersonal contexts. The findings suggest that adolescents with CU are not less sensitive to parental influence and may in contrast show greater context-sensitive disturbances in emotional regulation. The results have implications for family-based assessment and treatment for adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders.