Negative Life Events and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Incarcerated Boys with Callous-Unemotional Traits




Allyson Sharf, Eva R. Kimonis, Aisha Howard

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment

September 2014




Historically, researchers have searched extensively for biological explanations regarding causes of psychopathy and its theorized developmental precursor, callous-unemotional (CU) traits (i.e., lack of empathy/guilt, shallow affect). In consequence, environmental factors such as exposure to negative life events and posttraumatic stress that often follows have been relatively overlooked. The present study tests whether exposure to negative life events and related symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are associated with CU traits among a sample of 238 incarcerated boys. Additionally, youth high on CU traits were disaggregated into primary and secondary variants based on the presence of anxiety to examine differences in their experiences of negative life events and PTSD symptoms. Results suggest that CU traits are significantly positively associated with both the experience of negative life events as well as PTSD symptomatology. Additionally, high-anxious youth scoring high on CU traits (secondary variant) were significantly more likely to report a history of negative life events and PTSD symptoms than were lower anxious boys scoring high on CU traits (primary type) and non-psychopathic youth. Thus, study findings warrant further exploration of how trauma might impact or maintain the development of CU traits over time and indicate that issues of differential diagnosis must be considered in order to more effectively tailor treatment for trauma-exposed CU youth.






Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee