What's in it for Me? Callous-Unemotional Traits and Prosocial Behavior
Callous-unemotional (CU) traits in children are defined by diminished prosocial behavior (i.e., behavior to benefit another) and predict severe and chronic conduct problems across childhood. However, prosocial behavior includes different subtypes (e.g., helping, comforting) and results from different motivating factors. Very little is known about how CU traits might be differentially related to different subtypes of and motivations for prosocial behavior, which could give greater insight into the underlying development of CU traits.
We addressed this knowledge gap in a sample of 58 children (Mage=71.95 months, SDage=6.08; 67.2% female) who completed online virtual “lab visits” over Zoom. To assess instrumental (e.g., assisting with a goal) and comforting (e.g., alleviating emotional distress) forms of prosocial behavior, as well as children’s motivation for offering help, we used the newly-developed Eliciting Children’s Helping Offers (ECHO) paradigm. CU traits, prosocial behavior, and conduct problems were assessed via parent report. We found that while CU traits were unrelated to the number of instrumental or comforting offers of help that children made, higher levels of CU traits did uniquely predict fewer social prosocial motivations (e.g., anticipating pleasant social interactions). Our findings suggest that reduced social affiliation in children with CU traits drives reduced prosocial behavior and may serve as a key target for future intervention.