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Love, eye contact, and the developmental origins of empathy v. psychopathy

Dadds, Mark and Allen, Jennifer and Oliver, Bonamy and Faulkner, Nathan and Legge, Katharine and Moul, Caroline and Woolgar, Matthew and Scott, Stephen (2012) Love, eye contact, and the developmental origins of empathy v. psychopathy. British Journal of Psychiatry, 200 (3). pp. 191-196. ISSN 0007-1250. DOI UNSPECIFIED

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Background: A propensity to attend to other people’s emotions is a necessary condition for human empathy. Aims: To test our hypothesis that psychopathic disorder begins as a failure to attend to the eyes of attachment figures, using a ‘love’ scenario in young children. Method: Children with oppositional defiant disorder, assessed for callous–unemotional traits, and a control group were observed in a love interaction with mothers. Eye contact and affection were measured for each dyad. Results: There was no group difference in affection and eye contact expressed by the mothers. Compared with controls, children with oppositional defiant disorder expressed lower levels of affection back towards their mothers; those with high levels of callous–unemotional traits showed significantly lower levels of affection than the children lacking these traits. As predicted, the former group showed low levels of eye contact toward their mothers. Low eye contact was not correlated with maternal coercive parenting or feelings toward the child, but was correlated with psychopathic fearlessness in their fathers. Conclusions: Impairments in eye contact are characteristic of children with callous–unemotional traits, and these impairments are independent of maternal behaviour.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Contributed to paper write-up, primary responsibility for managing the study; including study design, overseeing data collection and supervision of research staff. Findings have formed the basis for a new treatment developed by the first and second author for antisocial children with callous-unemotional traits aimed at improving treatment outcomes. These children are at high risk for a severe and persistent patten of antisocial behaviour thus more effective early intervention programmes are greatly needed. Evaluation of this new treatment is funded by Guys' and St Thomas' Charity and is currently underway (2011-2013).
Controlled Keywords: Health and wellbeing
Divisions: IOE Departments > Departments > Psychology and Human Development
Depositing User: Atira Pure
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2013 02:01
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2015 08:58
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