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Fearlessness and low social affiliation as unique developmental precursors of callous-unemotional behaviors in preschoolers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 December 2019

Rebecca Waller*
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Nicholas J. Wagner
Affiliation:
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA
Megan Flom
Affiliation:
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA
Jody Ganiban
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA
Kimberly J. Saudino
Affiliation:
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA
*
Author for correspondence: Rebecca Waller, E-mail: rwaller@sas.upenn.edu

Abstract

Background

Early callous-unemotional (CU) behaviors identify children at risk for severe and persistent aggression and antisocial behavior. Recent work suggests that fearlessness and low social affiliation are implicated in the etiology of CU behaviors, although more research is needed to clarify these etiological pathways, as well as the role of parenting.

Method

Using a sample of preschoolers (N = 620), we examined pathways between observed fear in response to social and non-social stimuli and observed social affiliation during social interactions at age 3 and increases child CU behaviors and oppositional-defiant behaviors from ages 3 to 5. To elucidate the role of parenting in exacerbating or buffering the relationships between low fear and social affiliation and CU behaviors, we tested whether parental harshness or low warmth moderated these pathways.

Results

Fearlessness and low social affiliation uniquely predicted increases in CU behaviors, but not oppositional-defiant behaviors, from ages 3 to 5. Moreover, there was evidence for differential moderation of the fear pathway by harsh parenting, such that harsh parenting predicted increases in CU behaviors in fearless children but increases in oppositional-defiant behaviors in fearful children.

Conclusions

Fearlessness and low social affiliation contribute to the development of CU behaviors. Harsh parenting can exacerbate the risky fearlessness pathway. Preventative interventions aimed at reducing risk for CU behaviors and persistent aggression and antisocial behavior should target socioaffiliative processes and provide parents with strategies and training to manage and scaffold rule-compliant behavior when children show low fearful arousal.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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Footnotes

*

Note: Waller and Wagner made equal contributions to this manuscript.

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