Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.
Impaired attention to the eyes of attachment figures and the developmental origins of psychopathy
Article first published online: 30 SEP 2010
© 2010 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry © 2010 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Volume 52, Issue 3, pages 238–245, March 2011
How to Cite
Dadds, M. R., Jambrak, J., Pasalich, D., Hawes, D. J. and Brennan, J. (2011), Impaired attention to the eyes of attachment figures and the developmental origins of psychopathy. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52: 238–245. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02323.x
- Issue published online: 5 FEB 2011
- Article first published online: 30 SEP 2010
- Manuscript accepted 29 July 2010
- conduct problems;
- eye contact;
- parent–child interactions
Background: A pervasive failure to attend and respond to emotionally salient stimuli is a core feature of psychopathy. We hypothesise that this begins early in life and is expressed most importantly as a failure to attend to core emotional features (viz., the eyes) of attachment figures. The current study tested whether impaired eye contact is a characteristic of children with antisocial behaviour and callous-unemotional (CU) traits in real life settings.
Methods: Conduct problem males were assessed on levels of CU traits and observed in free play and ‘emotion talk’ scenarios with their parents. Eye contact was measured for each dyad (child to mother, child to father, mother to child, father to child) as a proportion of intervals in which the child and parent interacted.
Results: Levels of eye contact were reciprocated in mother–son and father–son dyads, but males with high CU traits showed consistent impairments in eye contact towards their parents. Mothers of high CU boys did not show impairments; however, fathers of high CU boys showed similar impairment. Levels of eye contact were also associated with independent measures of fear recognition, and general empathy in the boys.
Conclusions: The findings provide the first evidence that impairments in eye contact, previously shown during computer tasks, characterise psychopathic traits in young males.