Emotional Communication in Families of Conduct Problem Children With High Versus Low Callous-Unemotional Traits

Dave S. Pasalich, Mark R. Dadds, Lucy C. Vincent, Francesca A. Cooper, David J. Hawes, John Brennan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


This study examined relationships between parent-child emotional communication and callous-unemotional (CU) traits and conduct problems. References to negative and positive emotions made by clinic-referred boys (3-9 years) and their parents were coded from direct observations of family interactions involving the discussion of shared emotional experiences. Although frequencies of parents' emotion expression did not generally relate to levels of CU traits, boys higher on CU traits were observed to be more expressive of negative emotions in conversation with their caregivers-specifically for sadness and fear. Independent coders did not judge these children to be less genuine in their emotion expression compared to their low-CU counterparts. We also examined whether CU traits moderated the relationship between parents' focus on emotions and conduct problem severity. Higher levels of maternal focus on negative emotions were found to be associated with lower conduct problems in high-CU boys but related to higher conduct problems in low-CU boys. Frequencies of fathers' emotional communication were unrelated to either child CU traits or conduct problems. We discuss the implications of these findings for the conceptualization of CU traits in preadolescent children, and interventions for conduct problems in children elevated on these traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-313
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


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