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Callous and uncaring traits are associated with reductions in amygdala volume among youths with varying levels of conduct problems

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 August 2018

Elise M. Cardinale*
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Department of Psychology, Washington, DC, USA
Katherine O'Connell
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Washington, DC, USA
Emily L. Robertson
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Department of Psychology, Washington, DC, USA Louisiana State University Department of Psychology, Baton Rouge, LA, USA
Lydia B. Meena
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Department of Psychology, Washington, DC, USA
Andrew L. Breeden
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Washington, DC, USA
Leah M. Lozier
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Washington, DC, USA
John W. VanMeter
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging, Washington, DC, USA
Abigail A. Marsh
Affiliation:
Georgetown University Department of Psychology, Washington, DC, USA Georgetown University Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Washington, DC, USA
*Corresponding
Author for correspondence: Elise M Cardinale, E-mail: emc62@georgetown.edu

Abstract

Background

The emergence of callous unemotional (CU) traits, and associated externalizing behaviors, is believed to reflect underlying dysfunction in the amygdala. Studies of adults with CU traits or psychopathy have linked characteristic patterns of amygdala dysfunction to reduced amygdala volume, but studies in youths have not thus far found evidence of similar amygdala volume reductions. The current study examined the association between CU traits and amygdala volume by modeling CU traits and externalizing behavior as independent continuous variables, and explored the relative contributions of callous, uncaring, and unemotional traits.

Methods

CU traits and externalizing behavior problems were assessed in 148 youths using the Inventory of Callous Unemotional Traits (ICU) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). For a subset of participants (n = 93), high-resolution T1-weighted images were collected and volume estimates for the amygdala were extracted.

Results

Analyses revealed that CU traits were associated with increased externalizing behaviors and decreased bilateral amygdala volume. These results were driven by the callous and uncaring sub-factors of CU traits, with unemotional traits unrelated to either externalizing behaviors or amygdala volume. Results persisted after accounting for covariation between CU traits and externalizing behaviors. Bootstrap mediation analyses indicated that CU traits mediated the relationship between reduced amygdala volume and externalizing severity.

Conclusions

These findings provide evidence that callous-uncaring traits account for reduced amygdala volume among youths with conduct problems. These findings provide a framework for further investigation of abnormal amygdala development as a key causal pathway for the development of callous-uncaring traits and conduct problems.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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