The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Socioemotional and Behavioral Disturbance Among Youthful Sexual Offenders: The Role of Callous and Unemotional (CU) Traits

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 1:30 PM
Marina 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
George Leibowitz, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Timothy Stickle, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
David Burton, PhD, Associate professor, Smith College, Northampton, MI
Purpose:Socioemotional disturbance is alarmingly common among juvenile offenders with persistent patterns of aggression (e.g., Jonson-Reid, Williams, & Webster, 2001). Factors associated with persistence of these socioemotional difficulties are varied, but as yet not well understood. A limited understanding of specific influences of these factors, effective prevention and intervention approaches are fragmented or underfunded. Among numerous correlates of this set of disturbances, several factors stand out as likely precursors, specifically the presence of psychopathic traits, such as interpersonal callousness and poor recognition of emotion in others, deficits in executive functioning, and poor emotional regulation are related both to maltreatment history and to persistent antisocial behavior (authors omitted). In addition to the limited understanding of the causes and consequences of individual risk factors, increase in risk incurred by specific combinations of these factors is unstudied.  The present study seeks to fill gaps in the research that will inform services to youth by investigating the relationship between these risk factors and sexual and nonsexual offending. 

 Method:  Confidential data were collected using self-report surveys from 196 male juvenile sex offenders, 57% of whom were sexually victimized, in six juvenile correctional facilities in a Midwest state. The sample was racially and ethnically diverse with ages ranging from 13-20 years at the time of data collection. Data were collected using the Inventory of Callous and Unemotional Traits (ICU; Frick, 2004) and the Self-Reported Delinquency Measure (SRD; Elliot, Huizinga, & Ageton, 1985).

 Results: Hierarchical multiple linear regression and path analysis examining models of relevant predictors showed that psychopathic traits were associated both with more offenses and with more serious offenses. Although both Factor 1 (callous unemotional traits) and Factor 2 (impulsivity, behavioral deviance) were separately related to offense patterns, when accounting for covariates and multiple relevant predictors, Callous Unemotional Traits (CU) was the strongest predictor of delinquency, accounting for 25% of variance in total delinquency (b = .48, p < .001) and was a significant predictor of more serious offending such as sexual offenses against victims under age 12 (b = .29, p < .02). CU traits were also significantly negatively related to guilt about sexual offending ((b = -.29, p < .02).

 Implications: Implications include that social work practitioners should assess for callous, unemotional, and psychopathic traits among with juveniles who sexually abuse. In a sample of adolescents, high psychopathy scores were associated with a tendency to violate probation requirements and posttreatment failure (Gretton, McBride, Hare, O’Shaughessy & Kumka, 2001). Interventions should include an attention to the psychosocial context, as well as motivational strategies to engage youth with severe socioemotional challenges in treatment.