Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 741–754 | Cite as

Looming Threats and Animacy: Reduced Responsiveness in Youth with Disrupted Behavior Disorders

  • Stuart F. White
  • Laura C. Thornton
  • Joseph Leshin
  • Roberta Clanton
  • Stephen Sinclair
  • Dionne Coker-Appiah
  • Harma Meffert
  • Soonjo Hwang
  • James R. Blair


Theoretical models have implicated amygdala dysfunction in the development of Disruptive Behavior Disorders (DBDs; Conduct Disorder/Oppositional Defiant Disorder). Amygdala dysfunction impacts valence evaluation/response selection and emotion attention in youth with DBDs, particularly in those with elevated callous-unemotional (CU) traits. However, amygdala responsiveness during social cognition and the responsiveness of the acute threat circuitry (amygdala/periaqueductal gray) in youth with DBDs have been less well-examined, particularly with reference to CU traits. 31 youth with DBDs and 27 typically developing youth (IQ, age and gender-matched) completed a threat paradigm during fMRI where animate and inanimate, threatening and neutral stimuli appeared to loom towards or recede from participants. Reduced responsiveness to threat variables, including visual threats and encroaching stimuli, was observed within acute threat circuitry and temporal, lateral frontal and parietal cortices in youth with DBDs. This reduced responsiveness, at least with respect to the looming variable, was modulated by CU traits. Reduced responsiveness to animacy information was also observed within temporal, lateral frontal and parietal cortices, but not within amygdala. Reduced responsiveness to animacy information as a function of CU traits was observed in PCC, though not within the amygdala. Reduced threat responsiveness may contribute to risk taking and impulsivity in youth with DBDs, particularly those with high levels of CU traits. Future work will need to examine the degree to which this reduced response to animacy is independent of amygdala dysfunction in youth with DBDs and what role PCC might play in the dysfunctional social cognition observed in youth with high levels of CU traits.


Disruptive behavior disorders Conduct disorder Oppositional defiant disorder Amygdala Threat Animacy 



This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health (1-ZIA-MH002860), Dr. Blair principle investigator, with Identifier NCT00104039. Further support was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health in grants to R.J.R. Blair (1-K22-MH109558) and S.F. White (1-K01-MH110643).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

No authors have any conflicts of interest to disclose.

Ethical Approval

This study was approved by the National Institutes of Health Combined Neurosciences Institutional Review Board (protocol number 05-M-0105). All research procedures were compliant with relevant U.S. and National Institutes of Health ethics policies and regulations.

Informed Consent

Written informed consent was obtained from the legal guardians of all participants and written assent was obtained from all participants.

Supplementary material

10802_2017_335_MOESM1_ESM.docx (150 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 150 kb)


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Copyright information

© US Government (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stuart F. White
    • 1
    • 2
  • Laura C. Thornton
    • 1
  • Joseph Leshin
    • 2
  • Roberta Clanton
    • 3
  • Stephen Sinclair
    • 2
  • Dionne Coker-Appiah
    • 4
  • Harma Meffert
    • 1
    • 2
  • Soonjo Hwang
    • 2
    • 5
  • James R. Blair
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Neurobehavioral Research, Boys Town National Research HospitalOmahaUSA
  2. 2.Section on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience, NIMHBethesdaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryGeorgetown University School of MedicineWashingtonUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Nebraska Medical CenterOmahaUSA

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