The effect of callous-unemotional traits and peer influence on risk-taking in delinquent adolescents



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Callous-unemotional (CU) traits designate a unique subset of youth with externalizing psychopathology who commit more than their fair share of delinquent acts and tend to engage in a number of risky behaviors (such as probation violations, sexual offenses, and substance use). However, risky decisions appear to be implied in this behavior, and a greater understanding of the explicit decision-making processes of these youth is needed. One factor that may influence decision-making is the presence of peers, as most adolescents tend to make riskier decisions with their peers than when they are alone. The current study examined the role of CU traits and peer influence on risk-taking in a sample of 42 males (M = 15.2, 40% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 17% African American, 19% Multiracial) who were detained in the juvenile-justice system at the time of data collection. Participants completed three naturalistic risk-taking tasks (the Balloon Analogue Risk Task, the Iowa Gambling Task, and the Angling Risk Task) either alone or in the presence of two peers. To examine our hypotheses, levels of CU traits were regressed on the three behavioral tasks using multiple linear regression with Bayes estimation. Overall, CU traits were not significantly associated with outcomes on the any of the computerized risk tasks. Additionally, no significant differences in risk-taking emerged between individuals completing the tasks solo versus with peers, contrary to expected results. Our results suggest that youth with high levels of CU traits are not indiscriminately risky. They may engage in less general risk-taking and less diverse types of risk, and further research on what drives their risky decisions is needed. It is possible other factors of psychopathy are more directly related to general risk-taking than affective, CU traits.



Callous-unemotional, Risk-taking, Peer influence, Psychopathy