Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Callous-Unemotional Traits May Predict Future Risk of Gun Use By Some Youth

Callous-unemotional traits displayed in male adolescents after a first arrest may predict an increased risk of carrying and using a gun during a crime over a four-year period, according to a study published yesterday in AJP in Advance.

Callous-unemotional traits, such as limited guilt and reduced empathy, are found in 25% to 30% of adolescents with serious conduct problems, wrote Emily L. Robertson, M.A., of Louisiana State University and colleagues. “These adolescents display more persistent and severe aggression and violent offending, use aggression for personal gain, engage in behavior that causes more harm toward victims, display conduct problems that are more stable, and have worse treatment outcomes,” they wrote.

To examine the relationship between callous-unemotional traits in adolescents and risk of future gun carrying and use, the authors analyzed a sample of 1,215 male adolescents aged 13 to 17 years who were arrested for the first time for what the authors described as “an eligible offense of moderate severity.” (The authors noted that 77.2% of the participants were never incarcerated at any point in the study.)

The youth completed the self-report version of the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits (a 24-item instrument) at baseline and answered questions about how many of their peers carried and/or owned a gun. At follow-ups every six months for 36 months and then again at 48 months, the youth were asked about their own experience of carrying a gun and use of a gun during a crime.

After controlling for other risk factors, youth with greater callous-unemotional traits were found to be more likely to carry a gun and to use a gun during a crime in the four years after their initial arrest than those with fewer of these traits. Every one-point increase in callous-unemotional traits was associated with a 7.6% increase in the likelihood of carrying a gun and a 6.9% increase in the probability of using a gun during a violent crime, according to the study.

“The present study has important implications regarding the risk factors for gun carrying and use in adolescent boys in the juvenile justice system,” Robertson and colleagues noted. “First, interventions to reduce gun violence need to consider methods that have proven effective for youths with elevated callous-unemotional traits, who often do not respond as well to traditional mental health treatments. Second, our findings demonstrate the importance of considering callous-unemotional traits in future gun violence research because they may moderate the influence of other known risk factors, such as peer gun use, and lead to underestimates of the impact of this risk factor in the majority of youths, who do not have elevated callous-unemotional traits.”

(Image: iStock/artas)

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