Mapping the developmental pathways of child conduct problems through the neurobiology of empathy

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Abstract

The notion that antisocial behavior reflects failures of empathy has a long history in the clinical literature, yet only recently has evidence emerged to support neuroscientific accounts of empathy and the development of child conduct problems. Much of this evidence has come from research into callous-unemotional traits, which correspond to the affective component of psychopathy and therefore encompass deficits in empathy within a broader cluster of emotional impairments. In this review we integrate current evidence concerning the biobehavioral bases of empathy and callous-unemotional traits, and discuss how it may inform models of heterogeneous subgroups of individuals with early onset conduct problems. We argue that somewhat distinct failures of empathy map onto distinct risk pathways to early onset conduct problems, and that these pathways may be best understood by examining empathy in terms of cognitive and environmental prerequisites and the various neurochemical systems implicated therein.

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