Qualities of Temperament
The ways in which the family responds to an infant are influenced by that baby's temperament. Temperament also affects the infant's initial response to her or his environment. Temperament is a broad term that includes an individual's predisposition to certain moods and reaction styles. Babies appear to be born with these constitutionally based biases. Doctors and nurses as well as parents and researchers are able to see signs of temperament within a few hours after birth.
Temperament is the foundation of personality development and includes such qualities as emotional responses, activity level, sociability, and impulsiveness. Thomas and Chess (1986) believe temperament is established by the first two or three months of life. Researchers continue to study the genetic influences as well as the effect of the environment on temperament. Does the child's environment affect modest changes in his or her temperament over time?
Is an infant's temperament relatively stable throughout life, supporting the theory of genetic determination? In studying these and other questions, Thomas and Chess (1986) have identified nine qualities of temperament that are present in children at birth. The following traits were researched for ten years beginning in 1968:
- Activity level
- Approach or withdrawal (when confronted by new experiences)
- Adaptability to change
- Quality of mood or irritability
- Attention span or persistence
- Rhythmicity (regularity)
- Sensitivity to stimuli (how much noise to wake the baby)
- Intensity of reaction
Because these characteristics appeared in clusters, Thomas and Chess (1986) classified temperament in babies according to three styles: "easy," "slow to warm up," and "difficult." However, 35 percent of the infants did not fit into any category.
- Easy to warm up babies—40 percent. Positive disposition, regular body functions, adaptable, curious, moderate to low intensity of emotions.
- Slow-to-warm-up babies—15 percent. Inactive or calm reactions to the environment, withdraw from new situations.
- Difficult babies—10 percent. More negative moods; babies withdraw or are slow to adapt to new situations.
In studying various characteristics in children from infancy through age seven, Thomas and Chess found relatively little change in their basic styles. For example, a large number of babies classified as "difficult" were found to have more serious emotional problems at age seven than babies in the other two groups. However, other research showed both stability and changes in various temperament dimensions throughout childhood. Many studies found that children who showed high or low extremes in attention span, irritability sociability, or shyness were likely to score much the same throughout childhood and sometimes into adulthood (Caspi, Henry, McGee, Moffit, and Silva, 1995; Kochanska and Radke-Yarrow, 1992). Other studies found that some characteristics such as shyness or sociability can change over time and only appear to be stable if a child is extremely shy or sociable (Kerr, Lambert, Statin, Klachenberg-Larsson, 1994; Sanson, Pedlow, Cann, Prior, and Oberklaid, 1996).
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