Theses Doctoral

Emotion Recognition, Emotion Regulation, and Callous: Unemotional Traits in Incarcerated Male Youth

Linick, Jessica Leah

Youth with Callous-Unemotional (CU) traits represent an important subgroup of antisocial youth whose behavioral, affective, and cognitive functioning appear sharply different from other youth with conduct problems. However, few, if any studies have examined the interaction of cognitive control and emotion recognition among youth with CU traits, an important aspect of anti-social behavior. The current study examined the performance of adolescent males with Callous-Unemotional (CU) traits using an Emotional Go/Nogo task (EGNG), a measure of emotion recognition, cognitive control, and emotional regulation, with a specific focus on the recognition and regulation of responses to negative facial expressions. Participants included 268 male, sentenced or detained youth (ages 16-18 years), from a large correctional facility in New York City. On the EGNG, youth were presented with a series of facial expressions (angry, happy, sad, fearful, and neutral) and were asked to respond to a particular facial expression ("Go" trials) while inhibiting their response to a neutral expression ("Nogo" trials), or vice versa. CU traits were measured via the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits (ICU), a 24-item self-report instrument assessing levels of Callousness, Uncaring, and Unemotional traits. With regard to the main research question, emotion recognition, results indicated that this sample of antisocial youth with CU traits did not demonstrate deficits in recognizing fear or any other emotion faces in the EGNG task. However, youth with higher CU traits appeared more susceptible to emotional interference from negative emotional faces (Fear, Angry, Sad), evidencing difficulties in both behavioral inhibition and emotional reactivity within these conditions. In addition, analyses revealed unpredicted associations among EGNG performance, reading level, and race/ethnicity, suggesting a role of cultural, contextual, and individual level factors influencing emotional regulatory ability in these youth. Compared to studies that have examined the ability to label fearful affect, these findings suggest that discriminating fear from neutral faces may not be as deficient in youth with CU traits as previously reported. This is consistent with research that has found that CU traits may improve adolescents"™ ability to label the expression of fear and may facilitate antisocial behavior. Importantly, this study highlights the utility of examining CU traits in antisocial youth, and has important theoretical and clinical implications. Future research should continue to examine the regulation of responses to fear and other negative emotions in youth with CU traits, as well as relationships among these variables and behavioral characteristics (e.g., propensity to violence).


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More About This Work

Academic Units
School Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Brassard, Marla Ruth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 27, 2012