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September 26, 2013

Foundations of Temperament

by Angel Pumila
Foundations of Temperament
“When we describe one person as cheerful and “upbeat,” another as active and energetic, and still others as calm, cautious, or prone to angry outbursts, we are referring to temperament- early-appearing, stable individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation” (Berk, 2012). Researchers Thomas and Chess (1977) have found that temperament can be broken down into four categories; the easy child, the difficult child, the slow-to-warm-up child, and the remained a mix of multiple categories. These descriptions represent the behavior that a child demonstrates on a daily basis when interacting with his/her environment.Temperament changes throughout the lifespan as children learn to control their emotions and behaviors in response to different stimuli. While this element of personality changes over time in response to environmental situations, it is also linked to a predisposition from genetic influences. Twin studies of both fraternal and identical twins show that identical twins more closely share similar temperament styles. Research on ethnic differences in temperament presents Caucasian-American children as more active and vocal than their Asian counterparts (Berk, 2012, p260). While these traits are passed down from generation to generation, the environment determines how and when they are expressed.

Environmental influences create the level of stability and security that a child bases their views of the world upon. For example, children that are deprived of human interaction and care demonstrate emotional and attachment issues. These problems can be corrected over time if given the proper caring and stable environment after the trauma.

Parental interactions also aid in the formation of temperament. A parent’s personal beliefs and expectations are projected onto the child and can influence the way the child behaves and reacts to the environment. For example, if a parent defines the child as being good, bad, social, quiet, or smart, the interactions with the child will reflect these opinions. Researchers have found that the effect of parental perception of temperament effects treatment and subsequently interactions and reactions, but may not reflect the actual stable level of temperament of the child (Majdandžić, van den Boom & Heesbeen, 2008). When the parent changes his/her belief of the child, the interactions also change which results in a different displayed temperament style. A clear example of this can be seen in parent/teen relationships. When the teenager gets in trouble and parents react as if the teen is trouble, odds are that the teen will continue this type of behavior. Yet if the same situation is reacted to in a manner that views this behavior as an isolated incident, chances improve that this incident will be more isolated in comparison.

In summary, children are equipped with the genetic foundation for particular temperament features. These features are directly influenced and/or reinforced by the interactions with the child and the environment. This environment helps to mold the individual differences in how children react to and interact with the world around them.

Berk, L. E. (2012). Infants, children, and adolescents (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Majdandžić, M., van den Boom, D. C., & Heesbeen, D. M. (2008). Peas in a pod: Biases in the measurement of sibling temperament?. Developmental Psychology, 44(5), 1354-1368. doi:10.1037/a0013064

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