Background Callous traits during childhood, e.g., lack of remorse and shallow affect, are a key risk marker for antisocial behavior. Although callous traits have been found to be associated with structural and functional brain alterations, evidence to date has been almost exclusively limited to small, high-risk samples of boys. We characterized gray and white matter brain correlates of callous traits in over 2000 children from the general population.

Methods Data on mother-reported callous traits and brain imaging were collected at age 10 years from participants of the Generation R Study. Structural magnetic resonance imaging was used to investigate brain morphology using volumetric indices and whole-brain analyses (n = 2146); diffusion tensor imaging was used to assess global and specific white matter microstructure (n = 2059).

Results Callous traits were associated with lower global brain (e.g., total brain) volumes as well as decreased cortical surface area in frontal and temporal regions. Global mean diffusivity was negatively associated with callous traits, suggesting higher white matter microstructural integrity in children with elevated callous traits. Multiple individual tracts, including the uncinate and cingulum, contributed to this global association. Whereas no gender differences were observed for global volumetric indices, white matter associations were present only in girls.

Conclusions This is the first study to provide a systematic characterization of the structural neural profile of callous traits in the general pediatric population. These findings extend previous work based on selected samples by demonstrating that childhood callous traits in the general population are characterized by widespread macrostructural and microstructural differences across the brain.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Callous-unemotionalChild psychiatryDiffusion tensor imagingEpidemiologyGender differencesStructural neuroimaging
Persistent URL,
Journal Biological Psychiatry
Grant This work was funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme; grant id fp7/602768 - Aggression in Children: Unraveling gene-environment interplay to inform Treatment and InterventiON strateg (ACTION)
Bolhuis, K, Viding, E., Muetzel, R.L, El Marroun, H, Kocevska, D, White, T.J.H, … Cecil, C.A.M. (2018). Neural Profile of Callous Traits in Children: A Population-Based Neuroimaging Study. Biological Psychiatry. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.10.015