Early Callous-Unemotional Behavior, Theory-of-Mind, and a Fearful/Inhibited Temperament Predict Externalizing Problems in Middle and Late Childhood

Ju Hyun Song, Rebecca Waller, Luke W. Hyde, Sheryl L. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Childhood externalizing problems are more likely to be severe and persistent when combined with high levels of callous-unemotional (CU) behavior. A handful of recent studies have shown that CU behavior can also be reliably measured in the early preschool years, which may help to identify young children who are less likely to desist from early externalizing behaviors. The current study extends previous literature by examining the role of CU behavior in very early childhood in the prediction of externalizing problems in both middle and late childhood, and tests whether other relevant child characteristics, including Theory-of-Mind (ToM) and fearful/inhibited temperament moderate these pathways. Multi-method data, including parent reports of child CU behavior and fearful/inhibited temperament, observations of ToM, and teacher-reported externalizing problems were drawn from a prospective, longitudinal study of children assessed at ages 3, 6, and 10 (N = 241; 48 % female). Results demonstrated that high levels of CU behavior predicted externalizing problems at ages 6 and 10 over and above the effect of earlier externalizing problems at age 3, but that these main effects were qualified by two interactions. High CU behavior was related to higher levels of externalizing problems specifically for children with low ToM and a low fearful/inhibited temperament. The results show that a multitude of child characteristics likely interact across development to increase or buffer risk for child externalizing problems. These findings can inform the development of targeted early prevention and intervention for children with high CU behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1205-1215
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Aug 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Grant #R01MH57489 from the National Institute of Mental Health to Sheryl L. Olson. We are very grateful to the children, parents, teachers, and preschool administrators who participated, and to the many individuals who helped with data collection and management. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Some findings reported in full here were presented at the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) in Philadelphia, PA, USA in March 2015.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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