Emotion recognition profiles in clusters of youth based on levels of callous-unemotional traits and reactive and proactive aggression

Renee Kleine Deters*, Jilly Naaijen, Nathalie E. Holz, Tobias Banaschewski, Ulrike M.E. Schulze, Arjun Sethi, Michael C. Craig, Ilyas Sagar-Ouriaghli, Paramala Santosh, Mireia Rosa, Josefina Castro-Fornieles, María José Penzol, Celso Arango, Daniel Brandeis, Barbara Franke, Jeffrey C. Glennon, Jan K. Buitelaar, Pieter J. Hoekstra, Andrea Dietrich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Youth with disruptive behavior showing high callous-unemotional (CU) traits and proactive aggression are often assumed to exhibit distinct impairments in emotion recognition from those showing mainly reactive aggression. Yet, reactive and proactive aggression and CU traits may co-occur to varying degrees across individuals. We aimed to investigate emotion recognition in more homogeneous clusters based on these three dimensions. In a sample of 243 youth (149 with disruptive behavior problems and 94 controls) aged 8–18 years, we used model-based clustering on self-report measures of CU traits and reactive and proactive aggression and compared the resulting clusters on emotion recognition (accuracy and response bias) and working memory. In addition to a Low and Low-Moderate symptom cluster, we identified two high CU clusters. The CU-Reactive cluster showed high reactive and low-to-medium proactive aggression; the CU-Mixed cluster showed high reactive and proactive aggression. Both CU clusters showed impaired fear recognition and working memory, whereas the CU-Reactive cluster also showed impaired recognition of disgust and sadness, partly explained by poor working memory, as well as a response bias for anger and happiness. Our results confirm the importance of CU traits as a core dimension along which youth with disruptive behavior may be characterized, yet challenge the view that high CU traits are closely linked to high proactive aggression per se. Notably, distinct neurocognitive processes may play a role in youth with high CU traits and reactive aggression with lower versus higher proactive aggression.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Disruptive behavior problems
  • Emotion recognition
  • Proactive aggression
  • Reactive aggression


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