Emotional processing deficits in Italian children with Disruptive Behavior Disorder: The role of callous unemotional traits

Lucia Billeci, Pietro Muratori, Sara Calderoni, Natasha Chericoni, Valentina Levantini, Annarita Milone, Annalaura Nocentini, Marina Papini, Laura Ruglioni, Mark Dadds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research suggests that callous unemotional (CU) traits are associated with poor emotion recognition due to impairments in attention to relevant emotional cues. To further investigate the mechanisms that underlie CU traits, this study focused on the relationship between levels of CU and children's attention to, and recognition of, facial emotions. Participants were 7- to 10-year-old Italian boys, 35 with a diagnosis of Disruptive Behavior Disorder (age: M = 8.93, SD = 1.35), and 23 healthy male controls (age: M = 8.86, SD = 1.35). Children viewed standardized emotional faces (happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, and neutral) while eye-tracking technology was used to evaluate scan paths for each area of interest (eyes, face, mouth), and for each emotion. CU traits were assessed using parent and teacher ratings on the Antisocial Process Screening Device. In the whole sample, elevated levels of CU traits were associated with a lower ability to recognize sadness, a lower number of fixations, and a lower average length of each fixation, specifically to the eye area of sad faces. In children with Disruptive Behavior Disorder diagnoses, high levels of CU traits were associated with lower duration of fixations to the eye-region on the eye area of sad faces, which in turns predicted lower levels of sadness recognition. The findings confirm that poor emotion recognition is associated with impairments in attention to critical information about other people's emotions. The clinical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-38
Number of pages7
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Publication statusPublished - Dec 20 2018


  • Callous traits
  • Disruptive behavior disorder
  • Emotional processing
  • Eye gaze

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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