Academic journal article Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies

Callous-Unemotional Traits and Anxiety in a Sample of Detained Adolescents in Romania

Academic journal article Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies

Callous-Unemotional Traits and Anxiety in a Sample of Detained Adolescents in Romania

Article excerpt

The construct of psychopathy has a long history of research in adults (Cleckley, 1941) and this research has consistently found that psychopathic traits designate a unique subgroup of antisocial and criminal individuals who show a particularly severe, stable, and violent pattern of antisocial behavior (Hart, Knopp, & Hare, 1988; Hemphill, Hare, & Wong, 1998; Kosson, Smith, & Newman, 1990). Recently this construct has been extended to juvenile samples, with promising results. Specifically, callous and unemotional (CU) traits, defined by the presence of an affective and interpersonal style involving remorselessness, manipulation, and a lack of empathy, has also proven to designate a unique group of antisocial and delinquent youths (Frick, 2009). Like adults with psychopathy, children and adolescents with high rates of CU traits show a more severe, chronic and stable pattern of behavior (Frick & Viding, 2009) and they are different from other antisocial individuals on a number of emotional, cognitive, and personality characteristics (Frick & White, 2008). Based on this research, CU traits are being considered as a method for subgrouping youths with a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder in the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (Frick & Nigg, 2012). As a result, it is critical that research continues to investigate how antisocial individuals high on these traits differ from those who show normative levels of these traits. Also, given the use of the DSM in many different countries, cross-cultural research on these traits is particularly important.

One important line of research has focused on the different causal processes that could lead to the expression of psychopathy or CU traits. Specifically, it has been evident for some time that individuals with psychopathic traits are not a homogeneous group. As early as the 1940s, Karpman suggested dividing individuals with psychopathic traits into two groups: one characterized by a set of central personality traits and the other resulting from a course of negative life experiences (Karpman, 1941; Karpman, 1948b). Later, Lykken (1957) further proposed that the presence or lack of anxiety is a more specific method for defining subtypes of psychopathic individuals that subsumes other methods. This proposal has been supported by a number of studies in adults showing that individuals high on psychopathy can be meaningfully split into two distinct groups based on levels of trait anxiety, and only the group low on anxiety (i.e., primary psychopathy) shows deficits in laboratory tasks measuring passive avoidance (Arnett, Smith, & Newman, 1997; Newman & Schmitt, 1998) and deficits in responses to emotional stimuli (Newman, Schmitt, & Voss, 1997; Hiatt, Lorenz, Newman, 2002; Sutton, Vitale, & Newman, 2002). Further, and consistent with Karpman's (1941;1948b) early theorizing, the group high on anxiety (i.e., secondary psychopathy) tends to show higher levels of past child abuse and trauma in incarcerated adult samples (Blagov et al., 2011; Poythress et al., 2010).

Although variants of psychopathy have consistently differed on levels of anxiety and histories of abuse and trauma, other potential differences have not been as consistently supported in research. For example, Karpman (1941;1948a; see also Skeem et al., 2003) proposed that a primary deficit underlying the secondary group's interpersonal problems relates to problems in emotional regulation. As a result, this group would be predicted to show higher levels of impulsivity, aggression, and other signs of emotional distress (e.g., anger, suicidal behaviors; depersonalization; substance abuse). While research on adult samples largely has supported the prediction that the secondary variant shows higher rates of impulsivity (Blagov et al., 2011; Hicks, Markon, Patrick, Krueger, & Newman, 2004; Poythress et al., 2010; Vassileva, Kosson, Abramowitz, & Conrod, 2005) and substance abuse (Hicks, et al. …

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