Do callous-unemotional traits moderate the relative importance of parental coercion versus warmth in child conduct problems? An observational study

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Research suggests that parenting has little influence on the development of antisocial behavior in children with callous-unemotional (CU) traits. We aimed to extend and improve on prior studies examining the moderating role of CU traits on associations between parenting and conduct problems, by using independent observations of two key dimensions of parenting: coercion and warmth.


The participants included clinic-referred conduct-disordered boys (4–12 years; N = 95) and their families. Coercive parenting was coded from observations of family interaction and parental warmth was coded from Five-Minute Speech Samples. CU traits and conduct problems were rated by multiple informants.


In both mothers and fathers, CU traits moderated links between observed parenting and conduct problems. Specifically, coercive parenting was more strongly positively associated with conduct problems in boys with lower levels of CU traits, whereas parental warmth was more strongly negatively associated with conduct problems in boys with higher levels of CU traits.


These findings suggest that different dimensions of parenting may need to be targeted in the treatment of early onset conduct problems in children high and low on CU traits.

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