Callous and unemotional behaviour includes a lack of guilt and empathy, reduced concern for others' distress and difficulties with understanding emotions.

An infant's preference for a person's face, rather than an object, is associated with lower levels of callous and unemotional behaviour during childhood, the findings showed.

"This study takes us a step further in understanding the earliest origins of callous and unemotional behaviour," said co-researcher Rachael Bedford from King's College London in Britain.

The study involved 213 five-week-old infants. The researchers assessed if the infants spent longer tracking a person's face compared to an inanimate object in this case a red ball.

Greater tracking of the face relative to the ball was linked to lower callous unemotional behaviour when children were two and a half years old.

"Callous and unemotional behaviour in children are known to be associated with an increased emotional burden on families as well as later criminality and anti-social behaviour," Bedford concluded.

The study appeared in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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