Callous-Unemotional Behavior and Early-Childhood Onset of Behavior Problems: The Role of Parental Harshness and Warmth

Rebecca Waller, Frances Gardner, Daniel S. Shaw, Thomas J. Dishion, Melvin N. Wilson, Luke W. Hyde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Youth with callous-unemotional (CU) behavior are at risk of developing more severe forms of aggressive and antisocial behavior. Previous cross-sectional studies suggest that associations between parenting and conduct problems are less strong when children or adolescents have high levels of CU behavior, implying lower malleability of behavior compared to low-CU children. The current study extends previous findings by examining the moderating role of CU behavior on associations between parenting and behavior problems in a very young sample, both concurrently and longitudinally, and using a variety of measurement methods. Data were collected from a multi-ethnic, high-risk sample at ages 2 to 4 (N = 364; 49% female). Parent-reported CU behavior was assessed at age 3 using a previously validated measure (Hyde et al., 2013). Parental harshness was coded from observations of parent–child interactions and parental warmth was coded from 5-min speech samples. In this large and young sample, CU behavior moderated cross-sectional correlations between parent-reported and observed warmth and child behavior problems. However, in cross-sectional and longitudinal models testing parental harshness, and longitudinal models testing warmth, there was no moderation by CU behavior. The findings are in line with recent literature suggesting parental warmth may be important to child behavior problems at high levels of CU behavior. In general, however, the results of this study contrast with much of the extant literature and suggest that in young children, affective aspects of parenting appear to be related to emerging behavior problems, regardless of the presence of early CU behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)655-667
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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