Low Maternal Warmth Mediates the Relationship Between Emotional Neglect and Callous-Unemotional Traits Among Male Juvenile Offenders

Abstract

Callous-unemotional traits (CU) are thought to be the developmental precursor to adult psychopathy, and identify antisocial youth at risk for persistent, aggressive conduct problems. Accumulating research supports the importance of parenting factors in the development of CU traits. The overlapping but distinct constructs, parental neglect and low warmth, are both associated with CU/psychopathic traits; however, research is yet to examine the relative contribution of these constructs. The purpose of the present study was to examine the unique contributions of parental neglect and low warmth to CU traits among 227 incarcerated male juvenile offenders (M = 15.73, SD = 1.27 years). Results indicated that low levels of maternal warmth were more strongly associated with CU traits than emotional and physical neglect. Maternal warmth also significantly mediated the association between emotional neglect and CU traits. Findings from this cross-sectional study suggest that parental neglect influences CU traits at least partly through experiences with unresponsive and emotionally “cold” parenting. The findings also support a movement within the field towards addressing parental warmth as a treatment target for antisocial youth with CU traits.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Gordana Popovic for assistance dealing with missing data.

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Correspondence to Eva R. Kimonis.

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Bisby, M.A., Kimonis, E.R. & Goulter, N. Low Maternal Warmth Mediates the Relationship Between Emotional Neglect and Callous-Unemotional Traits Among Male Juvenile Offenders. J Child Fam Stud 26, 1790–1798 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-017-0719-3

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Keywords

  • Psychopathy
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Emotional neglect
  • Parental warmth
  • Maternal warmth