Seeing Eye to Eye: The Relationship Between Reciprocal Eye Gaze and Callous-Unemotional Traits in Young Children
The Promoting Empathy and Affiliation in Relationships (PEAR) study aims to examine parent-child interactions in a variety of naturalistic contexts under the lens of callous-unemotional (CU) traits. CU traits are marked by low levels of empathy and guilt, poor emotion recognition, and social avoidance, among other antisocial tendencies. A high level of CU traits in childhood is associated with patterns of crime, violence, and psychopathy in adulthood. Notably, children with high levels of CU traits often also show low sensitivity to punishment and resist traditional parenting strategies, making it difficult to curate effective interventions.
In the PEAR study, we aim to understand how these traits manifest and interact in parent-child dyads. Throughout the visit, we use various technologies aimed at evaluating the behaviors of the participants both together and alone, such as electro-cardiological monitoring devices (electrodes and their corresponding BIOPAC system) and eye tracking equipment. In the last hour of the visit, we ask the subjects to wear mobile eye tracking glasses, which are connected to smartphones that record and store the data. We first ask the parent to read a picture book to their child, then we ask the child to replicate shapes using magnets, and lastly we prompt the dyad to discuss a negative memory, a positive memory, and talk about the things they love about one another.
We anticipate a negative correlation between reciprocal eye gaze (i.e. eye contact) and CU traits in both parents and children. Additionally, we expect to see a blunted response from children high in CU traits regardless of the parent’s eye gaze.