Heart-wired to be cold? Exploring cardiac markers of callous-unemotional traits in incarcerated offenders

Hanne Duindam*, DeWayne Williams, Julian Thayer, Jessica Asscher, Hanneke Creemers, Machteld Hoeve

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Elevated callous-unemotional (CU) traits have been repeatedly identified in a subgroup of offenders that displays severe antisocial behavior; establishing physiological markers may help improve early identification and treatment efforts. This study examines to what extent baseline-resting heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) can be used as markers of CU in incarcerated juvenile and adult offenders. CU traits were assessed using the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional traits. Results of the multiple hierarchical regression tests indicated that there was a small yet significant positive association between baseline HR and CU and negative association between HRV and CU in juvenile offenders with medium model effect sizes (R2 = 0.115 for HR-CU; R2 = 0.126 for HRV-CU). The cardiac markers were unrelated to CU in adult offenders. These findings are important because they demonstrate that impaired cardiac autonomic activity is related to CU traits in juveniles, suggesting that socioemotional processing difficulties should be considered in understanding these deficits. Future research should be conducted in large samples, under reactive and static conditions, while including cardiac covariates, to get more clarity on the interplay between biological systems and behavioral expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-177
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • HR
  • HRV
  • Juveniles
  • Offenders
  • Physiological markers


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