Genetic underpinnings of callous-unemotional traits and emotion recognition in children, adolescents, and emerging adults. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Callous-Unemotional (CU) and psychopathic traits are consistently associated with impaired recognition of others' emotions, specifically fear and sadness. However, no studies have examined whether the association between CU traits and emotion recognition deficits is due primarily to genetic or environmental factors. METHODS: The current study used data from 607 Caucasian twin pairs (N=1,214 twins) to examine the phenotypic and genetic relationship between the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits (ICU) and facial emotion recognition assessed via the laboratory-based Facial Expression Labeling Task (FELT). RESULTS: The uncaring/callous dimension of the ICU was significantly associated with impaired recognition of happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, and disgust. The unemotional ICU dimension was significantly associated with improved recognition of surprise and disgust. Total ICU score was significantly associated with impaired recognition of sadness. Significant genetic correlations were found for uncaring/callous traits and distress cue recognition (i.e. fear and sadness). The observed relationship between uncaring/callous traits and deficits in distress cue recognition was accounted for entirely by shared genetic influences. CONCLUSIONS: The results of the current study replicate previous findings demonstrating impaired emotion recognition among youth with elevated CU traits. We extend these findings by replicating them in an epidemiological sample not selected or enriched for pathological levels of CU traits. Furthermore, the current study is the first to investigate the genetic and environmental etiology of CU traits and emotion recognition, and results suggest genetic influences underlie the specific relationship between uncaring/callous traits and distress cue (fear/sadness) recognition in others.

published proceedings

  • J Child Psychol Psychiatry

altmetric score

  • 12.08

author list (cited authors)

  • Moore, A. A., Rappaport, L. M., Blair, R. J., Pine, D. S., Leibenluft, E., Brotman, M. A., Hettema, J. M., & Roberson-Nay, R.

citation count

  • 16

complete list of authors

  • Moore, Ashlee A||Rappaport, Lance M||Blair, R James||Pine, Daniel S||Leibenluft, Ellen||Brotman, Melissa A||Hettema, John M||Roberson-Nay, Roxann

publication date

  • June 2019