Objective: Appropriate reactivity to emotional facial expressions, even if these are seen whilst we are engaged in another activity, is critical for successful social interaction. Children with conduct problems (CP) and high levels of callous-unemotional (CU) traits are characterized by blunted reactivity to other people's emotions, while children with CP and low levels of CU traits can over-react to perceived emotional threat. No study to date has compared children with CP and high vs. low levels of CU traits to typically developing (TD) children or each other, using a task that assesses attentional capture by irrelevant emotional faces. Method: All participants performed an attentional capture task in which they were asked to judge the orientation of a single male face that was displayed simultaneously with two female faces. Three types of trials were presented, trials with all neutral faces, trials with an emotional distractor face and trials with an emotional target face. Fifteen boys with CP and high levels of CU traits, 17 boys with CP and low levels of CU traits and 17 age and ability matched TD boys were included in the final study sample. Results: Compared to TD children and children with low levels of CU traits, children with CP and high levels of CU traits showed reduced attentional capture by irrelevant emotional faces. Conclusions: This study is the first to demonstrate a different pattern in emotional attentional capture in children with CP depending on their level of CU traits.
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DOI 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00570
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