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Assessing callous-unemotional traits: development of a brief, reliable measure in a large and diverse sample of preadolescent youth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2019

Samuel W. Hawes*
Center for Children and Families, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA Department of Psychology, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA
Rebecca Waller
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Wesley K. Thompson
Division of Biostatistics, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
Luke W. Hyde
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Amy L. Byrd
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
S. Alexandra Burt
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
Kelly L. Klump
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
Raul Gonzalez
Center for Children and Families, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA Department of Psychology, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA
Author for correspondence: Samuel W. Hawes, E-mail:



Callous-unemotional (CU) traits are critical to developmental, diagnostic, and clinical models of antisocial behaviors (AB). However, assessments of CU traits within large-scale longitudinal and neurobiologically focused investigations remain remarkably sparse. We sought to develop a brief measure of CU traits using items from widely administered instruments that could be linked to neuroimaging, genetic, and environmental data within already existing datasets and future studies.


Data came from a large and diverse sample (n = 4525) of youth (ages~9–11) taking part in the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. Moderated nonlinear factor analysis was used to assess measurement invariance across sex, race, and age. We explored whether CU traits were distinct from other indicators of AB, investigated unique links with theoretically-relevant outcomes, and replicated findings in an independent sample.


The brief CU traits measure demonstrated strong psychometric properties and evidence of measurement invariance across sex, race, and age. On average, boys endorsed higher levels of CU traits than girls and CU traits were related to, yet distinguishable from other indicators of AB. The CU traits construct also exhibited expected associations with theoretically important outcomes. Study findings were also replicated across an independent sample of youth.


In a large, multi-site study, a brief measure of CU traits can be measured distinctly from other dimensions of AB. This measure provides the scientific community with a method to assess CU traits in the ABCD sample, as well as in other studies that may benefit from a brief assessment of CU.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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