It has generally been thought that traits deemed callous and unemotional are traits that increase the likelihood that adolescents engage in violence. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has indeed listed limited prosocial emotions as a symptom of conduct disorder. These types of traits have been identified in more than 25% of adolescents who have significant conduct problems.
Though these traits have been shown to increase the risk for carrying a weapon, they have not before been specifically linked to gun violence. A new study, published in the The American Journal of Psychiatry, has addressed this question of the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and the likelihood of carrying or using guns.
For their analysis, the researchers evaluated over 1,200 male juvenile offenders who came from 3 different regions of the U.S. They measured participants’ callous-unemotional traits and asked participants to report on whether they carried, owned, or used a gun. They collected this information at baseline, which was after the first arrest, and again every 6 months for 3 years and once more at 4 years following the baseline measurement.
The result of the study showed that those who displayed callous-unemotional traits at baseline were more likely to carry a gun and use a gun during a crime over the following 4 years. This relationship also appeared to be unaffected by the tendency of peers to carry guns. Only offenders who were low in terms of callous-unemotional traits were more likely to carry guns if their peers carried or owned guns.
Based on their findings, the authors highlight the ability of callous-unemotional traits to moderate other risk factors associated with gun violence, such as peer gun habits. They argue that, given these insights, we need to consider callous-unemotional traits when combating gun violence.
Robertson, EL et al. (2020). Callous-unemotional traits and risk of gun carrying and use during crime. The American Journal of Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.19080861