Featured Published Manuscript of the Month: July, 2018


Chosen and summarized by:  Molly A. Miller, University of New Orleans


Meffert, H., Thornton, L. C., Tyler, P. M., Botkin, M. L., Erway, A. K., Kolli, V., ... & Blair, R. J. R. (2018). Moderation of prior exposure to trauma on the inverse relationship between callous-unemotional traits and amygdala responses to fearful expressions: an exploratory study. Psychological medicine, 1-9.


Corresponding Author:  Harma Meffert ([email protected]) Boys Town National Research Hospital



 This featured study examined the moderating role of prior trauma in the relationship between amygdala responsiveness to fearful expressions and callous-unemotional (CU) traits, as well as the extent to which this relationship predicts the importance of social goals, such as avoiding conflict.  Two experiments were conducted. In Experiment 1, 72 youth (ages 10-18) completed the fMRI Morphed Faces Task. In Experiment 2, 66 of the youth from Experiment 1 completed the Social Goals Task. Amygdala responsivity was measured using fMRI, CU traits were assessed through parent- and youth self-report, trauma was assessed through youth self-report, and disruptive behaviors were assessed through parent-report. Youth were recruited from the Boys Town Family Home program (n = 21) and from the greater Omaha, NE area (n = 51).


 A few key findings were:


·        Fear intensity-modulated right amygdala responses negatively predicted CU traits for youth with low trauma


·        Fear intensity-modulated right amygdala responses positively predicted CU traits for youth with high trauma


·        The indirect effect of fear intensity amygdala response on social goal importance through CU traits was moderated by prior trauma


Some key implications:

·        Youth with elevated CU traits may present with very different underlying pathophysiologies related to their ability to recognize and process fear stimuli. These differences may occur as a function of prior exposure to trauma or maltreatment during childhood.


·        The study highlights the importance of considering trauma histories when evaluating youth’s levels of CU traits


·        Although many current interventions seek to reduce CU traits by increasing responsiveness to distress cues, findings from this study underscore the need for the development of interventions which target a wide range of underlying neurocognitive dysfunction