Does Early Childhood Callous-Unemotional Behavior Uniquely Predict Behavior Problems or Callous-Unemotional Behavior in Late Childhood?

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Abstract

Callous-unemotional (CU) behavior has been linked to behavior problems in children and adolescents. However, few studies have examined whether CU behavior in early childhood predicts behavior problems or CU behavior in late childhood. This study examined whether indicators of CU behavior at ages 2–4 predicted aggression, rule-breaking, and CU behavior across informants at age 9.5. To test the unique predictive and convergent validity of CU behavior in early childhood, we accounted for stability in behavior problems and method effects to rule out the possibility that rater biases inflated the magnitude of any associations found. Cross-informant data were collected from a multiethnic, high-risk sample (N = 731; female = 49%) at ages 2–4 and again at age 9.5. From age 3, CU behavior uniquely predicted aggression and rule-breaking across informants. There were also unique associations between CU behavior assessed at ages 3 and 4 and CU behavior assessed at age 9.5. Findings demonstrate that early childhood indicators of CU behavior account for unique variance in later childhood behavior problems and CU behavior, taking into account stability in behavior problems over time and method effects. Convergence with a traditional measure of CU behavior in late childhood provides support for the construct validity of a brief early childhood measure of CU behavior.

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