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Journal Article


Neo B, Kimonis ER. Law Hum. Behav. 2021; 45(6): 554-565.


(Copyright © 2021, American Psychological Association)






OBJECTIVE: Research shows that youth who engage in early delinquency have higher callous-unemotional (CU) traits than youth with a later start. This study extends prior research to determine the optimal delinquency onset age cutoff for identifying youth high versus low on CU traits and the average age of delinquency onset for youth with clinically significant CU traits. HYPOTHESES: We hypothesized that youth with childhood-onset delinquency would have higher CU traits than those with adolescent-onset delinquency. We hypothesized that youth with clinically significant CU traits would have an earlier delinquency onset than youth without CU traits. We explored differences in delinquency onset between antisocial youth categorized into low-anxious primary CU variant, high-anxious secondary CU variant, and low-CU/low-anxious control groups.

METHOD: Participants were 456 adjudicated, incarcerated boys (M age = 16.24 years, SD = 1.33, range 12-19; 40.4% White, 39.7% Black, 13.8% Hispanic/Latino, 6.1% other race/ethnicity) in the United States. We measured age of delinquency onset using self-report and official records.

RESULTS: Boys who were 11 years old or younger when they first engaged in delinquency had higher CU traits than those who were 12 years old or older (η p 2 range =.009-.012), controlling for conduct problem severity and race/ethnicity. On average, boys with clinically significant CU traits first engaged in delinquency 1 year earlier (at 7.81 years old) than those without CU traits (η p 2 =.012). Low-anxious primary CU variants were 1 year younger at their first official charge (12.65 years old) than controls (η p 2 =.026). There were no statistically significant differences between low-anxious primary and high-anxious secondary CU variants.

CONCLUSIONS: Elevated CU traits were over-represented among boys who were youngest at their first legal contact, suggesting that this may be an opportune time to identify this subgroup of youth to provide nuanced intervention to prevent later serious delinquency and criminal justice involvement. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Language: en


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