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Callous and unemotional traits in children and adolescents living in Great Britain

  • Paul Moran (a1), Tamsin Ford (a2), Georgia Butler (a1) and Robert Goodman (a3)
Summary

Few studies have assessed psychopathic traits in community samples of young people. We investigated the predictive utility of callous and unemotional traits in a representative sample of 5770 young people from Great Britain. Teachers provided information on the presence of callous and unemotional traits and parents completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire to determine the level and impact of psychiatric problems at baseline, 12 and 24 months later. Baseline callous and unemotional trait scores independently predicted the number and intensity of conduct, emotional and hyperactivity symptoms at follow-up. Callous and unemotional traits are longitudinally associated with the level and impact of childhood psychiatric problems.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Paul Moran, Health Services Research Department, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London, SE5 8AF, UK. Email: paul.moran@iop.kcl.ac.uk
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Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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1 Frick, PJ, O'Brien, BS, Wootton, JM, McBurnett, K. Psychopathy and conduct problems in children. J Abnorm Psychol 1994; 103: 700–7.
2 Dadds, MR, Perry, Y, Hawes, DJ, Merz, S, Riddell, AC, Haines, DJ, Solak, E, Abeygunawardane, AI. Attention to the eyes and fear-recognition deficits in child psychopathy. Br J Psychiatry 2006; 189: 280–1.
3 Lynam, DR. Early identification of chronic offenders: who is the fledgling psychopath? Psychol Bull 1996; 120: 209–34.
4 Frick, PJ, Bodin, SD, Barry, CT. Psychopathic traits and conduct problems in community and clinic-referred samples of children: further development of the psychopathy screening device. Psychol Assess 2000; 12: 382–93.
5 Goldberg, D, Williams, P. A User's Guide to the General Health Questionnaire. nfer-Nelson, 1988.
6 Goodman, R, Ford, T, Simmons, H, Gatward, R, Meltzer, H. Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to screen for child psychiatric disorders in a community sample. Br J Psychiatry 2000; 177: 534–9.
7 Frick, PJ, Stickle, TR, Dandreaux, DM, Farrell, JM, Kimonis, ER. Callous-unemotional traits in predicting the severity and stability of conduct problems and delinquency. J Abnorm Child Psychol 2005; 33: 471–87.
8 Dadds, MR, Fraser, J, Frost, A, Hawes, DJ. Disentangling the underlying dimensions of psychopathy and conduct problems in childhood: a community study. J Consult Clin Psychol 2005; 73: 400–10.
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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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Callous and unemotional traits in children and adolescents living in Great Britain

  • Paul Moran (a1), Tamsin Ford (a2), Georgia Butler (a1) and Robert Goodman (a3)
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eLetters

Pioneering, but open to prejudice

Woody Caan, Professor of Public Health
30 January 2008

The Institute of Psychiatry team deserves praise for their large scale study of schoolchildren, that combines parental assessments of psychopathology with teacher assessments of emotional traits. [1] Opportunities for (unspecified) early intervention to prevent antisocial behaviour seem a worthy focus for community research, although I am not sure how many schoolchildren would welcome their label "fledgling psychopaths".

One aspect of their pioneering report did raise alarm, at the population health level. The new questionnaire showed greater "callous andunemotional" ratings for subgroups with "Black and minority ethnicity". [1] All seven items scored could have very different Norms within different cultural or religious traditions, for example my formative yearswere in India and when I read the item "shallow or fast-changing emotions"I prejudicially translated that as 'British'. The research findings may be especially open to unconscious prejudice where the teacher and the child grew up in different ethno-cultural groups. There is not room here to discuss US transcultural debates, such as whether the term 'rascal' is specifically overapplied by White adults to African American children, butconsider the questionnaire item "too full of his/her own abilities". My personal view from work with Youth Offending Teams [2] and Looked After Children [3] is that the difficulties (adult) professionals have in comprehending the needs of young people are greatly amplified if a cultural misunderstanding is also present.

The four authors recognise that they need to know more about the properties of their "callous and unemotional trait scale", and since the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a valuable special interest group in Transcultural Psychiatry it could be timely to seek their expert advice before targeting too many young, "fledgling psychopaths".

1 Moran P, Ford T, Butler G, Goodman R. Callous and unemotional traits in children and adolescents living in Britain. British Journal of Psychiatry 2008; 192: 65-66.

2 McKay I, Caan W. Free expression: tailoring health services to young offenders in Barking & Dagenham and Havering. Pp. 91-100 in Listen to Me: Consulting young people on health and health issues. Ilford:Barnardo’s, 2002.

3 Caan W. Not overlooked any more. Foreword in (K.Dunnett ed.) Healthof Looked After Children and Young People. Lyme Regis: Russell House, 2006.

Declaration of interest: honorary consultant in Public Health to the Essex Children's Trust.
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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