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J Interpers Violence. 2006 Mar;21(3):411-29.

Associations among cruelty to animals, family conflict, and psychopathic traits in childhood.

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  • 1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


Previous research has produced mixed findings on the role of child and family factors in the genesis of childhood cruelty. The authors examined the relationships of cruelty to animals to a range of child and family factors. First, the authors test the idea that cruelty is a callous aggression that will be more strongly associated with psychopathic (callous or unemotional, CU) traits than general externalizing problems. Second, the authors operationalize family problems as open conflict rather than parenting problems as used earlier. Results indicated that for both genders, CU traits were associated strongly with cruelty. For boys, externalizing problems also added prediction in regression analyses. Family conflict was not associated with cruelty for either. These results suggest that cruelty to animals may be an early manifestation of the subgroup of children developing conduct problems associated with traits of low empathy and callous disregard rather than the more common pathway of externalizing problems and parenting problems.

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