Featured Published Manuscript of the Month: August 2018


Chosen and summarized by: Monika Dargis


Dadds, M. R., Kimonis, E. R., Schollar-Root, O., Moul, C., & Hawes, D. J. (2018). Are impairments in emotion recognition a core feature of callous–unemotional traits? Testing the primary versus secondary variants model in children. Development and Psychopathology, 30(1), 67-77.



Corresponding Author:  Mark R. Dadds, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia; [email protected]


This featured study investigated the hypothesis that emotion recognition deficits are characteristic of only the primary variant of callous unemotional traits (defined as CU + low anxiety and low maltreatment history). The authors examined interactions between callous-unemotional traits, maltreatment history and anxiety among n = 364 clinic-referred children (M=8.83 years old) with behavioral problems in Sydney, Australia. Accuracy of emotional identification during a computerized task was used to measure emotion recognition. A maltreatment index utilizing reports from children’s’ teachers and clinicians, as well as self-reports for children 8 years or older, was created to measure exposure to childhood maltreatment.


 A few key findings were:


·           There was a significant interaction between physical/emotional abuse and CU traits predicting emotion recognition, such that children with high levels of CU traits and zero or low maltreatment history performed more poorly on the emotion recognition task.


·           This interaction was present across a range of emotions (e.g., sadness, fear, anger, disgust, happiness).


·            There was no relationship between CU traits and emotion recognition deficits at high levels of maltreatment history.


·             Interactions between CU traits and anxiety did not significantly predict emotion recognition accuracy.


·              This pattern of results varied somewhat depending on the maltreatment index utilized (teacher, clinician, or self-report). For example, among the subset of youth with self-reported maltreatment histories, the CU-emotion recognition relationship was moderated by anxiety.


Some key implications:


·             Maltreatment history and/or presence of anxiety may be important considerations in etiological models of conduct problems in the presence of callous unemotional traits.


·              Intervention efforts aimed at improving emotion recognition among children with CU traits may only be effective for a subset of these children and, therefore, environmental adversity and anxiety level should be considered in treatment contexts.