Psychologist David Hawes and his colleagues at the University of New South Wales evaluated a child-management training programme and found that four-year- to eight-year-old boys who have "callous-unemotional" (CU) temperament are less responsive to discipline, such as time-out, compared to children without these traits.
Children with a CU-temperament tend to show a lack of empathy and guilt about the impact of their actions on others, according Hawes.
"Behavioural problems are often more extreme among children who have CU traits, which can include deliberate or predatory aggression and deliberate rule-breaking," he was quoted by the science portal EurekAlert as saying.
"Behavioural problems are often more extreme among children who have CU traits. One of the worst mistakes parents make when a child doesn't respond to punishment is to increase the severity of punishment."
Hawes further said that though these children appear to respond poorly to punishment, they respond well to incentives and rewards for good behaviour, such as praise and quality-time with parents.
"Our research reveals for the first time that these child-characteristics appear to limit the extent to which behaviour can be changed, even when parents develop the appropriate child management skills.
Child-management training programmes are generally effective in the preschool years. "However, we know relatively little about why some children don't respond to these programmes," said Hawes.
The researchers say these children may require different approaches to discipline than those that work for most children.