Background: Although a lot is known about the association of conduct problems with bullying, less attention has been paid to co-occurring traits, such as callous-unemotional (CU) traits that might additionally contribute to the risk of engaging in bullying. This study investigated the contribution of CU traits to direct and indirect bullying, alongside the contributions made by conduct problems and gender.
Methods: Seven hundred and four 11–13-year-olds completed self-report measures of callous-emotional traits and psychopathology, including conduct problems. Peer-report measures of direct and indirect bullying were collected from classmates.
Results: Higher levels of CU traits were associated with higher levels of direct bullying, over and above the association between bullying and conduct problems. Conduct problems and CU traits interacted in the prediction of both direct and indirect bullying. In line with previous research, males were more likely to engage in direct and females in indirect bullying.
Conclusions: This study highlights the importance of viewing CU traits and conduct problems, not only as related phenomena, but also as distinct entities in mediating the underlying susceptibility of children to bully others directly. Furthermore, a combination of these traits appears to be a particularly potent risk factor for both direct and indirect bullying. Implications for intervention are discussed, in particular the concern that lack of empathy and insensitivity to punishment in those with CU traits may also make them particularly resistant to current forms of bullying intervention.