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Aetiology of the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems in childhood

  • Essi Viding (a1), Paul J. Frick (a2) and Robert Plomin (a3)
Abstract
Background

A callous and unemotional disposition is an indicator of early-onset antisocial behaviour.

Aims

To investigate the extent to which genetic influences contribute to the overlap between callous–unemotional traits and conduct problems in a large population sample of 7-year-old twins.

Method

Teachers provided ratings of callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems for 3434 twin pairs from the Twins Early Development Study. Model-fitting analyses were performed across the continuum of scores and at the extremes.

Results

The phenotypic relationship was primarily genetically mediated, both across the continuum and at the extremes and was substantial.

Conclusions

At 7 years of age, genetic influences on callous–unemotional traits overlap substantially with genetic influences on conduct problems. This combination should guide selection criteria in future molecular genetic studies.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Dr Essi Viding, Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, P080, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. Email: e.viding@iop.kcl.ac.uk
Footnotes
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Declaration of interest

None. Funding detailed in Acknowledgements.

Footnotes
References
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Aetiology of the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems in childhood

  • Essi Viding (a1), Paul J. Frick (a2) and Robert Plomin (a3)
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eLetters

Re: The Callous Unemotional Traits

Essi M Viding, Lecturer
29 May 2007

Asperger’s use of the term psychopathy refers to personalitydisorder/psychopathology rather than to psychopathy as defined based on the current criteria. Recent research carried out with colleagues indicates that although there are individuals who have the neurocognitive profile associated with both autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and psychopathy, most individuals with ASD (even those with antisocial behaviour) do not show neurocognitive deficits characteristic of psychopathy (Rogers et al., 2006). More importantly, a case review of 177 cases originally diagnosed by Asperger, found no raised incidence of criminal offences compared with general population rates (Hippler & Klicpera, 2003). It is clear that there are individuals with Asperger's syndrome/ASD who committ crimes(e.g. Baron-Cohen, 1988; Scragg & Shah,1994). However Asperger's Psychopathy does not equal psychopathy as defined by current practice.

Baron-Cohen, S. (1988). An assessment of violence in a young man withAsperger’s syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 29, 351–360.

Hippler, K. & Klicpera, C. (2003). A retrospective analysis of the clinical case records of ‘autistic psychopaths’ diagnosed by Hans Asperger and his team at the University Children’s Hospital, Vienna. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 358, 291–301.

Rogers, J. S. C., Viding, E., Blair, R. J. R., Frith, U.,& Happe,F. (2006). Autism spectrum disorder and psychopathy: shared cognitive underpinnings or double hit? Psychological Medicine 36, 1789-1798.

Scragg, P. & Shah, A. (1994). Prevalence of Asperger’s syndrome in a secure hospital. British Journal of Psychiatry 165, 679–682.
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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The Callous Unemotional Traits

Michael F. Fitzgerald
08 May 2007

There was no reference to Autistic Psychopathy (Hans Asperger, 1944) in Viding’s et al. (2007) paper. This was also not referenced or discussed in any of the other papers in Supplement 49 on Assessment, Risk,and Outcome in Severe Personality Disorder. The severe unempathic conductand aggression problems were well recognised by Hans Asperger (1944) and overlap with what Viding et al. (2007) describe as “more severe, aggressive, and stable pattern of antisocial behaviour and a specific neurocognitive profile indicative of defects in affect processing”. This is precisely what children (and adults) with Autistic Psychopathy and Antisocial Behaviour demonstrate.

References:

1.Asperger H. (1944). Die “autistischen Psychopathen” i.m Kindesalter. Archives fur Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 117, 76 – 136.

2.Fitzgerald M. (2001). Autistic Psychopathy. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40: 8, 870.

3.Fitzgerald M. (2003). Callous-unemotional traits and Asperger’s syndrome? Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 9, 1011.

4.Viding E., Frick P., Plomin R. (2007). Aetiology of the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems in childhood. British Journal of Psychiatry, 190 (Supplement 49), 33 – 38.
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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