A longitudinal twin study of callous-unemotional traits during childhood

Jeffrey Henry, Ginette Dionne, Essi Viding, Amélie Petitclerc, Bei Feng, Frank Vitaro, Mara Brendgen, Richard E. Tremblay, Michel Boivin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Previous research indicates that genetic factors largely account for the stability of callous-unemotional (CU) traits in adolescence. However, the genetic-environmental etiology of the development of CU traits has not been extensively investigated in childhood, despite work showing the reliable measurement and stability of CU traits from a young age. The aim of this study was to investigate the temporal pattern of genetic and environmental etiology of CU traits across primary school, from school entry (7 years) to middle (9 and 10 years) and late childhood (12 years). Data were collected in a population sample of twins composed of 662 twin pairs (Quebec Newborn Twin Study). CU traits were reported by teachers and analyzed using a biometric latent growth curve model and a Cholesky decomposition model. Latent growth curve analyses revealed that genetic factors explain most of the variance in the intercept of CU traits. Individual differences in change over time were not significant. The Cholesky model revealed that genetic factors at 7 years had enduring contributions to CU traits at 9, 10, and 12 years. New, modest genetic contributions appeared at 9 and 10 years. Nonshared environmental contributions were generally age-specific. No shared environmental contributions were detected. In sum, both modeling approaches showed that genetic factors underlie CU traits during childhood. Initial and new genetic contributions arise during this period. Environments have substantial contributions, over and above genetic factors. Future research should investigate the source of genetic risk associated with CU traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)374-384
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Cholesky decomposition
  • Genetic-environmental etiology
  • Linear latent growth curve model
  • Twin studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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