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The impact of prenatal maternal risk, fearless temperament and early parenting on adolescent callous-unemotional traits: a 14-year longitudinal investigation

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  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Abstract

Objective:  Proposals have been submitted to the DSM-V for the addition of a callous-unemotional (CU) specifier for conduct problem (CP) youth (CP/CU). While the addition of such a diagnostic category may aid in the identification of homogeneous CP subtypes, evidence on risks for the development of CP/CU remains limited. The present study sought to examine the extent to which CP/CU in early adolescence could be differentiated by family- and child-based risks from pregnancy to age 4 years.

Method:  Using data from approximately 7,000 mothers and their offspring (51% male) participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, the authors examined maternal prenatal risks (psychopathology, criminality, substance use), child’s fearless temperament (age 2 years) and harsh and warm parenting (age 4 years) as predictors of CP and CU at age 13; then used follow-back analyses to explore pre- and early post-natal risks in more detail.

Results:  Maternal prenatal risks increased fearless temperament and CP and CU. Fearless temperament was also prospectively associated with higher levels of early adolescent CP and CU, above and beyond parenting and prenatal maternal risks. Follow-back analyses showed fearless temperament in boys manifested as lower response to punishment cues, while for girls this temperament was indexed by boldness toward novel situations and strangers, particularly for CP/CU youth.

Conclusions:  The current findings suggest that (i) maternal prenatal risks and fearless temperament showed a dose–response relationship with CP and CU (i.e., higher clustering of risks tended to relate to both higher levels and the co-occurrence of CU with CP), and (ii) intervention programs that aim to improve behavioural outcomes may consider targeting specific temperamental features in both boys and girls.

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