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Cognitive and Affective Theory of Mind in Children with Callous-Unemotional Traits

Satlof-Bedrick, Emma (2017) Cognitive and Affective Theory of Mind in Children with Callous-Unemotional Traits. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Children with callous-unemotional (CU) traits, the childhood analogue of psychopathy, represent a subset of children with conduct disorder who demonstrate the earliest, most severe, and most persistent antisocial behavior (Frick & Ellis, 1999). Attention is being increasingly turned towards the etiology and identification of early warning signs of these traits, but relatively little is known about their developmental antecedents and correlates. The current study aims to examine a unique social cognitive pattern observed in children with CU traits such that compared to their typically developing peers, they have intact or heightened cognitive Theory of Mind (ToM) skills in combination with pervasively deficient affective ToM skills (Jones et al., 2010; Schwenck et al., 2012; Centifanti, Meins, Fernyhough, 2015; Anastassiou-Hadjicharalambous & Warden, 2008; Woodworth & Waschbusch, 2008; Blair & Coles, 2000; Loney et al., 2003; Wolf & Centifanti, 2013). That is, they are able to understand what others think, know, and believe, but struggle to understand how other people feel and why.

The current study was conducted using data collected as part of the Pittsburgh Girls Study to examine the relationship between CU traits and cognitive and affective ToM in a sample of girls from ages 6 to 17 years. The specific aims were to 1) identify and distinguish applied affective ToM and applied cognitive ToM; 2) examine predictive associations between CU traits, conduct disorder, and both ToM factors; and 3) examine the stability in CU traits in girls from age 6 to age 17, the stability of applied ToM in early adolescence, and the bidirectional relationship between CU traits and applied ToM over time.

A confirmatory factor analysis revealed that a two-factor ToM model demonstrated excellent model fit, suggesting that looking at cognitive and affective ToM skills separately yields meaningful information about developing social cognitive skills. As hypothesized, CU traits at age 6 significantly positively predicted applied cognitive ToM and negatively predicted applied affective ToM at age 11. CU traits in girls demonstrated relatively high stability across all ages. Consistent with the pattern from age 6 to age 11, CU traits at age 11 significantly positively predicted applied cognitive ToM and significantly negatively predicted applied affective ToM at age 14. However, contrary to our hypotheses, CU traits at ages 14 and 17 were not significantly predicted by applied ToM skills at the previous age, suggesting limited bidirectionality.

Taken together, these findings support the idea that children with CU traits exhibit a unique ToM profile. By continuing to examine this profile, we will better understand developmental precursors of CU traits, the implications CU traits have for peer relationships, the best targets for CU-specific interventions, and the most effective means through which to try to alter the trajectory of these traits in early childhood.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Satlof-Bedrick, Emmaess33@pitt.eduess330000-0002-1492-674X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBrownell, Celiabrownell@pitt.edubrownell
Committee MemberStepp, Stephaniesteppsd@upmc.edusteppsd
Committee MemberSilk, Jenniferjss4@pitt.edujss4
Committee MemberWright, Aidan G.C.aidan@pitt.eduAIDAN
Committee MemberBachman, Heatherhbachman@pitt.eduhbachman
Date: 28 September 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 14 July 2017
Approval Date: 28 September 2017
Submission Date: 25 August 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 107
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Theory of mind; callous-unemotional traits; developmental psychopathology; social cognition
Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2017 00:25
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2017 00:25


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