Elevated levels of callous unemotional traits are associated with reduced attentional cueing, with no specificity for fear or eyes

Amy Dawel*, Elinor McKone, Richard O'Kearney, Martin Sellbom, Jessica Irons, Romina Palermo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Three theoretical explanations for the affective facet of psychopathy were tested in individuals with high levels of callous unemotional (CU) traits. Theory 1 (Blair) proposes specific difficulties in processing others' distress (particularly fear). Theory 2 (Dadds) argues for lack of attention to the eyes of faces. Theory 3 (Newman) proposes enhanced selective attention. The theories make contrasting predictions about how CU traits would affect cueing of attention from eye-gaze direction in distressed (i.e., fearful) faces; eye-gaze direction in nondistressed (i.e., happy, neutral) faces; and nonsocial stimuli (arrows). High CU adults (n = 33) showed reduced attentional cueing compared with low CU adults (n = 75) equally across all conditions (eye-gaze in distressed and nondistressed faces, arrows). The high CU group's ability to suppress following of eye-gaze emerged with practice while the low CU group showed no such reduction in gaze-cueing with practice. Overall accuracy and RTs were not different for the low and high CU groups indicating equivalent task engagement. Results support an enhanced selective attention account - consistent with Newman and colleagues' Response Modulation Hypothesis - in which high CU individuals are able to suppress goal-irrelevant social and nonsocial information. The current study also provides novel evidence regarding the nature of gaze-following by tracking practice effects across blocks. While supporting the common assumption that following of gaze is typically mandatory, the results also imply this can be modified by individual differences in personality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-228
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • attention
  • callous unemotional
  • eyes
  • fear
  • psychopathy


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