Callous-Unemotional Traits and Academic Performance in Secondary School Students: Examining the Moderating Effect of Gender

Elisabeth Bird, Celine Y. Chhoa, Emily Midouhas, Jennifer L. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


Callous-unemotional (CU) traits and male gender are both known risk factors for poor academic outcomes in children and adolescents. However, despite gender differences in CU trait severity, comorbid difficulties and correlates of CU traits, research has yet to examine whether the CU traits and male gender may work together to increase risk for poor academic performance. That is, whether boys high in CU traits perform more poorly across academic disciplines than girls high in these traits. This study therefore aimed to investigate i) the relationships between CU traits, student gender and English, Science and Math grades, and ii) whether gender moderates the association between CU traits and academic outcomes. Participants were 437 children aged 11 to 14 years (mean age 12.50 years; 49% girls; 85% White) attending a state secondary school in England. Students reported on CU traits and externalizing problems and their English, Math and Science grades were gathered from school records. Using hierarchical linear modelling, CU traits were found to be significantly related to lower English, Math and Science grades when controlling for age, gender, sociodemographic disadvantage and externalizing problems. CU traits were significantly related to lower Science grades for boys but not girls. However, gender did not moderate the association between CU traits for English or Math grades. Findings enhance our understanding of how child characteristics may interact to increase the likelihood of poor school outcomes, and therefore help us to identify youth at-risk for poor academic performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1639-1650
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number10
Early online date16 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019


  • Academic achievement
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Gender differences
  • Psychopathic traits
  • School grades
  • Youth psychopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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