The role of infants' mother-directed gaze, maternal sensitivity, and emotion recognition in childhood callous unemotional behaviours
While some children with callous unemotional (CU) behaviours show difficulty recognizing emotional expressions, the underlying developmental pathways are not well understood. Reduced infant attention to the caregiver's face and a lack of sensitive parenting have previously been associated with emerging CU features. The current study examined whether facial emotion recognition mediates the association between infants' mother-directed gaze, maternal sensitivity, and later CU behaviours. Participants were 206 full-term infants and their families from a prospective longitudinal study, the Durham Child Health and Development Study (DCHDS). Measures of infants' mother-directed gaze, and maternal sensitivity were collected at 6 months, facial emotion recognition performance at 6 years, and CU behaviours at 7 years. A path analysis showed a significant effect of emotion recognition predicting CU behaviours (β = -0.275, S.E. = 0.084, p = 0.001). While the main effects of infants' mother-directed gaze and maternal sensitivity were not significant, their interaction significantly predicted CU behaviours (β = 0.194, S.E. = 0.081, p = 0.016) with region of significance analysis showing a significant negative relationship between infant gaze and later CU behaviours only for those with low maternal sensitivity. There were no indirect effects of infants' mother-directed gaze, maternal sensitivity or the mother-directed gaze by maternal sensitivity interaction via emotion recognition. Emotion recognition appears to act as an independent predictor of CU behaviours, rather than mediating the relationship between infants' mother-directed gaze and maternal sensitivity with later CU behaviours. This supports the idea of multiple risk factors for CU behaviours.