Distinguishing primary and secondary variants of callous-unemotional traits among adolescents in a clinic-referred sample

Rachel E. Kahn, Paul J. Frick, Eric A. Youngstrom, Jennifer Kogos Youngstrom, Norah C. Feeny, Robert L. Findling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


The current study used model-based cluster analyses to determine if there are 2 distinct variants of adolescents (ages 11-18) high on callous-unemotional (CU) traits that differ on their level of anxiety and history of trauma. The sample (n = 272) consisted of clinic-referred youths who were primarily African American (90%) and who came from low-income families. Consistent with hypotheses, 3 clusters emerged, including a group low on CU traits, as well as 2 groups high on CU traits that differed in their level of anxiety and past trauma. Consistent with past research on incarcerated adults and adolescents, the group high on anxiety (i.e., secondary variant) was more likely to have histories of abuse and had higher levels of impulsivity, externalizing behaviors, aggression, and behavioral activation. In contrast, the group low on anxiety (i.e., primary variant) scored lower on a measure of behavioral inhibition. On measures of impulsivity and externalizing behavior, the higher scores for the secondary cluster were found only for self-report measures, not on parent-report measures. Youths in the primary cluster also were perceived as less credible reporters than youths in the secondary cluster (i.e., secondary variant) or cluster low on CU traits. These reporter and credibility differences suggest that adolescents within the primary variant may underreport their level of behavioral disturbance, which has important assessment implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)966-978
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Assessment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescents
  • Aggression
  • Callous unemotional traits
  • Secondary psychopathy
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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