To What Extent Does Punishment Insensitivity Explain the Relationship Between Callous-unemotional Traits and Academic Performance in Secondary School Students?

Suhlim Hwang, Jennifer L. Allen, Theodora Kokosi, Elisabeth Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Background. Callous-unemotional (CU) traits are related to low achievement but not to deficits in verbal ability, commonly regarded as a major risk factor for poor academic outcomes in antisocial youth. This suggests that CU traits may have utility in explaining heterogeneous risk pathways for poor school performance in antisocial children. Reduced sensitivity to teacher discipline has been suggested as a potential explanation for the association between CU traits and low achievement, given its importance in facilitating engagement in learning. This study is the first to examine punishment insensitivity as a potential mechanism explaining the relationship between CU traits and poor achievement.
Aim. The current study investigated the indirect pathway from CU traits via the predictor of punishment insensitivity to English, Maths and Science grades.
Sample. A total of 437 English secondary school students aged 11 to 14 years (49% girls).
Methods. We conducted mediation analysis within a structural equation modelling framework. CU traits and punishment insensitivity were assessed using child-report questionnaires and academic grades were obtained from school records.
Results. CU traits were indirectly associated with low academic grades in Maths and Science, but not English, via punishment insensitivity, controlling for child age, gender, single parent household, free school meals eligibility, externalizing problems, and classroom effects.
Conclusions. Findings indicated that reduced sensitivity to discipline forms a pathway linking CU traits to poor performance in Maths and Science. Teachers may therefore need additional support to implement discipline effectively with children high in CU traits in order to prevent poor academic outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusAcceptance date - 16 Nov 2020

Keywords

  • callous-unemotional traits
  • psychopathic traits
  • academic achievement
  • punishment insensitivity

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