Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Frick, Paul

Second Advisor

Vaccarino, Anthony

Third Advisor

Greve, Kevin

Fourth Advisor

Wiliams-Brewer, Mary


The purpose of this study was to incorporate attachment theory and psychopathy into a transactional model to explain the development of disruptive behavior disorders in children. The model tested in this study proposed two broad pathways leading to the development of disruptive behavior disorders. Each pathway was characterized by an atrisk child temperament, negative reactivity and psychopathy, which when embedded in an at-risk environment, would result in conduct problems. Hyperactivity and negative life events were hypothesized to be broad band risk factors for both pathways. The first pathway, characterized by callous-unemotional traits (CU), was hypothesized to be positively associated with thrill seeking behavior and proactive aggression in the child, and insecure attachment in the caregiver. A second pathway, characterized by child negative reactivity, was hypothesized to be positively associated with reactive aggression in the child and disorganized attachment in the caregiver. Data was collected from 48 low income caregiver/child dyads. Children were between the ages of 6 and 12 (mean age=9.3, SD=1.85), and received services from a state mental health clinic. A series of hierarchical regression analyses were performed to evaluate the relationship between the predictor variables and conduct problems. A primary finding was an extremely strong positive correlation between CU traits and conduct problems. Also, several distinct differences were found between groups of children low and high on CU traits. For those children low on CU traits, thrill seeking behaviors were positively associated with conduct problems, while negative life events, attachment insecurity, and attachment disorganization were all negatively associated with conduct problems. For the children high on CU traits, thrill seeking and attachment insecurity had no meaningful impact on conduct problems, while negative life events and attachment disorganization were positively associated with conduct problems. Hyperactivity, proactive aggression, reactive aggression, and negative reactivity were all broad risk factors for conduct problems in this study. The findings of this study suggest that several developmental pathways do exist for children who develop conduct problems, and that future research should utilize developmental models that include a number of broad risk factors, as well as factors that may be specific to certain developmental pathways.


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