Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Anibal Gutierrez

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Daniel Waschbusch

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Co-Committee Chair

Third Advisor's Name

Jacob Gewirtz

Fourth Advisor's Name

Golam Kibria


Callous and Unemotional, Punishment, Electrodermal Activity, Aversive Stimuli, Skin Response, Psychopath

Date of Defense



Callous and unemotional (CU) traits in children with conduct problems have been indicated as precursors to adult psychopathy. The analysis of the sensitivity to rewards and punishment in this population may be useful in the identification of effective behavior modification programs and particularly the delineation of ineffective punishment procedures. Scores on the Child Psychopathy Scale, Inventory of Callous and Unemotional Traits, Contingency Response Rating Scale and the Sensitivity to Reward Sensitivity to Punishment – Children Revised scale were used to evaluate 20 children, aged 7-13, recruited from FIU’s Center for Children and Families. The sample comprised 14 males and 6 females displaying a range of psychopathic traits measured by the CPS, with scores from 9 to 46 (M = 28.45, SD = 10.73).

Sensitivity to punishment was examined using a behavioral task in which children endured various amounts of either white noise (type I punishment) or time-out from positive reinforcement (type II punishment) in order to gain access to a demonstrated reinforcer. The sample was stratified on the basis of the magnitude of psychopathy scores, and sensitivity to rewards and punishment were evaluated using a Behavioral Activation / Behavioral Inhibition framework by examining task performance: the frequency and duration of punishment conditions selected, electrodermal activity (skin conductance response), and parent-reported measures of child sensitivity to reward and punishment.

Results indicated that the magnitude of CU traits was directly proportional to hyposensitivity to punishment and hypersensitivity to reward. Children with elevated levels of CU traits elected to endure a greater frequency and duration type I punishment in order to maintain continued access to the reinforcer. Significant differences were not found between high- and low-psychopathy children in the selection of type II punishment. The findings indicate that although there may be a hyporeactivity to type I punishment in children with CU traits, the use of a type II punishment by the removal of a positive stimulus has demonstrated treatment efficacy. The difference in sensitivity to rewards and the types of effective punishment in children with CU traits may affect reinforcement based learning, leading to the ineffectiveness of traditional methods informing the development of social responses.





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