Do Callous and Unemotional Traits in Young Children Predict Change in Parenting and Child Behavior In Response to Behavioral Parent Training?

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Year of Completion


First Advisor

Camilo Ortiz


Callous and unemotional traits are an affective and interpersonal style characterized by an absence of guilt, constricted display of emotion, and decreased empathy (Frick et al., 2003). Children with high levels of callous and unemotional traits and conduct problems are thought to exhibit a more severe, persistent pattern of antisocial behavior than children with conduct problems alone (Dadds, Fraser, Frost & Hawes, 2005). Children with high levels of these traits have been found to be less influenced by typical parental socialization practices, such as punishment (Wooton, Frick, Shelton & Silverthorn, 1997). The current study aimed to assess the role that callous and unemotional traits play as a predictor of Parent Management Training (PMT) effectiveness. Using random assignment, the current study assessed the effects of both reward and punishment parenting interventions on 98 parents of 74 three to eight year old children with difficult to manage behavior. It was hypothesized that the effectiveness of PMT would be negatively associated with pre-intervention CU levels, and that the type of intervention (punishment focused versus reinforcement focused) would moderate this relation, such that the association between pretest CU levels and poorer parent training outcomes would be significantly stronger for children receiving a punishment based intervention than for children receiving a reward based intervention. Results demonstrated that CU traits were highly correlated with externalizing problems at pretreatment and are a significant predictor of PMT effectiveness above and beyond pretest externalizing problems. However, the data did not support the theory that the relation between pretest CU levels and PMT outcomes would be stronger for families who were exposed to a discipline based intervention than for families who were exposed to a reinforcement based intervention. Ways to alter traditional parent-training interventions to better suit the needs of children high in CU traits are discussed