Psychology Undergraduate Research Symposium 2021

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.

College Alumni Society Undergraduate Research Grant
College of Arts & Sciences 2021
College Alumni Society Undergraduate Research Grant
The University of Pennsylvania’s Social and Behavioral Science Initiative, a subsidiary of mindCORE
College of Arts & Sciences 2021


April 30 | 11:19 AM : by

Hi Kat!

This is really interesting research and I can tell that a LOT of thought and effort went into both developing the task and coding the responses.  I am a little confused about your main finding, however.  What are "social self-oriented motivations?"  CU traits clearly didn't predict help offers (either instrumental or emotional support).  I'm not clear on how prosociality and empathy are measured by the task, or if those are what you mean by social self-oriented motivations.  I look forward to your talk on Monday to hear more detail!!!


Dr. H


May 03 | 8:15 AM : by


I really enjoyed your poster and presentation. The establishment and validation of a new, non-questionnaire based Zoom-friendly assessment of prosocial motivations that track with CU is an important contribution to the field. Your presentation was clear and authoritative. Nice work!


Dr. Platt

Hi Dr. Hunt,

Thank you for your interest! We measured prosocial behavior and empathy using parent-report questionnaires (the prosocial subscale of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and the Griffith Empathy Measure) in order to see how they correlated with ECHO ratings (this was more related to our first aim, validating ECHO).

Prosocial motivations were assessed using the third question in the ECHO task: “What do you think would happen after that?” We coded three types of motivations: other-oriented (e.g., “She’ll feel better”), non-social self-oriented (e.g., “I’ll get a reward”) and social self-oriented (e.g., “He’ll be friends with me”). So CU traits didn’t predict helping offers, but they did predict children giving fewer social self-oriented motivations in response to the third question. I hope this clears things up!