Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 72–82 | Cite as

Diminished Neural Responses to Emotionally Valenced Facial Stimuli: A Potential Biomarker for Unemotional Traits in Early Childhood

  • Caroline P. Hoyniak
  • John E. Bates
  • Isaac T. Petersen
  • Chung-Lin Yang
  • Isabelle Darcy
  • Nathalie M. G. FontaineEmail author
Original Paper


Callous-unemotional (CU) traits are characterized by deficits in guilt/empathy, shallow affect, and the callous and manipulative use of others. Individuals showing CU traits have increased risk for behavior problems and reduced responses to displays of distress in others. To explore how deficits in emotion-processing are associated with CU traits, the current study examined the association between callous-unemotionality and a neural index of facial emotion processing, using the event-related potential technique in a group of 3–5 year olds. Children viewed a series of static emotional faces, depicting either fear or happiness, while electroencephalography data were collected. The N170 component, thought to index the neural processes associated with face perception, was examined along with CU traits. Findings suggest that the unemotional dimension of CU traits is associated with diminished emotion-processing responses to fearful faces. Reduced neural responses to facial depictions of fear could be a biomarker for unemotional traits in early childhood.


CU traits Unemotional traits Event-related potential Early childhood 



This project was supported by a Project Development Team within the ICTSI NIH/NCRR Grant Number TR000006 and the Department of Criminal Justice, Indiana University Bloomington. Caroline Hoyniak is supported by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation Grant Number 1342962. Dr. Nathalie Fontaine is a Research Scholar, Junior 1, Fonds de recherche du Québec–Santé. We thank Professors Dennis Molfese, Aina Puce and Bennett Bertenthal for their support, and gratefully acknowledge the contribution of the research assistants, families, and children.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  3. 3.Department of Second Language StudiesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  4. 4.School of CriminologyUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada

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