Assessing Callous-Unemotional Traits in Adolescents: Validity of the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits Across Gender, Age, and Community/Institutionalized Status

  • S. Pihet
  • S. Etter
  • M. Schmid
  • E. R. Kimonis


Callous-unemotional (CU) traits identify adolescents at high risk for severe and recurrent antisocial behaviour and are included in the DSM-5 as a specifier to conduct disorder. The Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits (ICU) might be the most cost-effective screening instrument for detecting CU traits in youth. We aimed to address an important gap in research by comparing the factor structure and psychometric properties of ICU scores across gender, age, and setting (community versus institutionalized). Community-based (n = 397) and institutionalized (n = 164) adolescent boys and girls completed self-reported measures of psychopathic traits (including the ICU), externalizing problems and aggression, and a laboratory measure of emotional recognition; the staff reported antisocial behavior for institutionalized children. Factor-analytic results indicated that a three-factor bifactor model best fit the data across samples, with measurement invariance across gender, age, and setting, supporting the construct validity of the ICU. In support of its criterion validity, across groups ICU scores were positively correlated with analogous dimensions from the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory, measures of proactive aggression, and self- and staff-reported antisocial behavior, and were associated with poorer accuracy in recognizing distress-related emotions. Our findings thus support the overall utility of the ICU for assessing CU traits in adolescent populations regardless of gender, age, and community or institutionalized status, but suggest a need for refining its assessment of the shallow affect dimension.


Callous-unemotional traits Adolescence Community Conduct disorder Psychometrics 



We express our warmest thanks to the Swiss National Science Foundation (#100014-130553, awarded to the first author) and the Swiss Ministry of Justice (project “Clarification and goal attainment in Swiss youth welfare and juvenile justice institutions”, awarded to the third author) for their financial support, as well as to Maya Suter, Pascale Spicher and Jill De Ridder, Elena Bayboerek, Cybèle Bertoni, Tamara Borovicanin, Marcello Cantarella, Margaux Clément, Malika Dessibourg, Virginie Dyens, Amélie Eggertswyler, Tatiana Mabillard, Pamela Monnet, Sheila Ramos, Vanessa Pralong, Krisztina Prébandier, and Yoann Uehlinger for their very valuable help during data collection, to the staff of the forensic institutions Valmont and Time-Out and of the private boarding schools Maya-Joie and Don Bosco, and last but not least to all participants who made this research possible.

Conflict of Interest

S. Pihet, S. Etter, M. Schmid and E.R. Kimonis declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Experiment Participants

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Pihet
    • 1
    • 2
  • S. Etter
    • 2
  • M. Schmid
    • 3
  • E. R. Kimonis
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Health Sciences FribourgUniversity of Applied Sciences and Arts Western SwitzerlandFribourgSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  4. 4.School of PsychologyUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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