Perceptions of social conflicts among incarcerated adolescents with callous-unemotional traits: 'You're going to pay. It's going to hurt, but I don't care'

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Background: Delinquent youth with callous-unemotional (CU) traits may have a unique social-cognitive processing pattern that perpetuates their violent behavior. The current study examined the association between CU traits and the endorsement of deviant social goals during peer conflicts as well as expectancies and values regarding victim suffering following aggression. Methods: Participants included 156 (84 males, 72 females) adjudicated juveniles residing at two gender-specific residential facilities in an urban city within the southeastern United States. The association between CU traits and participants' ratings of their social goals in hypothetic conflict situations and outcome expectancies/values regarding victim suffering were examined after controlling for prior violence, intelligence, and demographic covariates. Results: CU traits were associated with an increased endorsement of social goals associated with revenge, dominance, and forced respect in social conflict situations. Adjudicated youth with CU traits were also less likely to endorse conflict avoidance and friendship building as important social goals when provoked by peers. There was no association between CU traits and expectations for victim suffering following aggression, but CU traits were significantly associated with lower levels of concern about victim suffering. These findings were significant after controlling for participants' prior history of violence, intelligence, and demographic covariates. Conclusions: Adjudicated youth with CU traits tend to emphasize power-oriented goals when provoked by peers and have little interest in rectifying social conflicts to build potential friendships with others. Juveniles with CU traits seem to be aware that their aggressive behavior will cause others to suffer, but they do not care when it does.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)248-255
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011



  • callous-unemotional
  • outcome values
  • social goals
  • social-cognition
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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