Associations among cruelty to animals, family conflict, and psychopathic traits in childhood

Mark R. Dadds*, Clare Whiting, David J. Hawes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


Previous research has produced mixed findings on the role of child and family factors in the genesis of childhood cruelty. The authors examined the relationships of cruelty to animals to a range of child and family factors. First, the authors test the idea that cruelty is a callous aggression that will be more strongly associated with psychopathic (callous or unemotional, CU) traits than general externalizing problems. Second, the authors operationalize family problems as open conflict rather than parenting problems as used earlier. Results indicated that for both genders, CU traits were associated strongly with cruelty. For boys, externalizing problems also added prediction in regression analyses. Family conflict was not associated with cruelty for either. These results suggest that cruelty to animals may be an early manifestation of the subgroup of children developing conduct problems associated with traits of low empathy and callous disregard rather than the more common pathway of externalizing problems and parenting problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-429
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Cruelty
  • Family
  • Psychopathy
  • Violence


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