Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 769–780 | Cite as

A Unique Path to Callous-Unemotional Traits for Children who are Temperamentally Fearless and Unconcerned about Transgressions: a Longitudinal Study of Typically Developing Children from age 2 to 12

  • Kathryn C. GoffinEmail author
  • Lea J. Boldt
  • Sanghag Kim
  • Grazyna Kochanska


Despite the acknowledged significance of callous-unemotional (CU) traits in developmental psychopathology, few studies have examined their early antecedents in typically developing children, in long-term longitudinal designs, using observational measures. In 102 community mothers, fathers, and children (N = 51 girls), we examined main and interactive effects of children’s fearless temperament and low concern about transgressions from toddler to early school age as predictors of CU traits in middle childhood and early preadolescence. In laboratory paradigms, we observed children’s concern about breaking valuable objects (twice at each age of 2, 3, 4.5, 5.5, and 6.5 years) and about hurting the parent (twice at each age of 2, 3, and 4.5 years). We observed fearless temperament during scripted exposure to novel and mildly threatening objects and events (twice at each age of 2, 3, 4.5, and 5.5 years). Mothers and fathers rated children’s CU traits and externalizing behavior problems at ages 8, 10, and 12. Children’s low concern about both types of transgressions predicted CU traits, but those effects were qualified by the expected interactions with fearless temperament: Among relatively fearless children, those who were unconcerned about transgressions were at the highest risk for CU traits, even after controlling for the strong overlap between CU traits and externalizing problems. For fearful children, variation in concern about transgressions was unrelated to CU traits. Those interactions were not significant in the prediction of externalizing problems. The study highlights a potentially unique etiology of CU traits in early development.


Callous-unemotional traits Fearless temperament Concern about transgressions 



This research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, grants R01 MH63096 and K02 MH01446, National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, grant R01 HD069171, and a Stuit Professorship (to G.K.). We thank many colleagues, students and staff members for their help with data collection, coding, and file management, and parents and children in Family Study for their commitment to this research. We also thank Annie Bernier for her very helpful input.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn C. Goffin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lea J. Boldt
    • 1
  • Sanghag Kim
    • 1
    • 2
  • Grazyna Kochanska
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesThe University of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyHanyang UniversitySeoulSouth Korea

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