This essay will focus on childhood temperament and behavioural development, in relation to key aspects of nature and nurture and the role of temperament in social adjustment and maladjustment. Temperament is a set of behavioral tendencies. A child’s individual style of temperament is derived from the various ways each infant behaves and responds, to both things and people.
According to Gillibrand, R., Lam, V., & O’Donnell, V.L. 2016 In their studies, they identified significant features of temperament which involve, stability, continuity, context-dependence and early emergence.
According to Gillibrand (2016), Stability of temperament is behavioural tendencies that persist over-time. An example to illustrate this notion is if a two year old is more active compared to his same-aged peers, he should also be more active than his peers years down the line as well. This showcases stability, a similar level relative to other same age peers over time. Continuity concerns the persistence of temperament over time. The context-dependence is related to sets of behaviours depending on each setting. The biological basis of temperament is highlighted through the concept of early emergence in infancy, which indicates that if something is innate then it is expected to be exhibited at an early age to persist over-time. Gillibrand (2016)
One of the many perspectives of different researchers regarding temperament is Mary Rothbart, who identified five dimensions of temperament. Fear, distress/anger/frustration, attention span, activity level, and smiling/laughter (Gartstein & Rothbart, 2003; Rothbart et al., 2001). Siegler et al. (2017) refers to temperament as individual differences in emotion, activity level, and attention that are exhibited across contexts and that are present from infancy and thus thought to be genetically based (Bornstein et al., 2015).
The significant aspects of nature and nurture which may explain individual differences in children’s temperamental characteristics is highlighted by Siegler et al. (2017), developmentalists now recognise that every characteristic we possess is due to the coexistence of nature and nurture. Nature refers to our biological endowment, . Whereas, nurture is the wide range of environments both physical and social which influence our development and serve as determinants of temperament.
The studies have shown that nature and nurture have a role in determining temperament among children. Genes influence the variation of temperament, in a study by Rasbash et al., (2011); Saudino & Wang, (2012), identical twins were shown to be more similar to each other in the aspects of their emotions and regulation than are fraternal twins. As for the nurture aspect, teratogens are external agents that can damage growth during prenatal development. Teratogens such as nutritional deficiencies, maternal stress and anxiety among others have been found to have a role in temperament as its exposure can predict infants and children’s ability to regulate their attention and behaviour. Siegler et al. (2017) (Huizink, 2008, 2012; T. Dennis et al., 2006). Other significant elements of nurture which result in individual differences in children’s temperamental characteristics is shown in the studies of E. E. Lewis et al., (2007) “children who grow up in home environments that are harsh or unstable tend to have problems with self regulation and the expression of emotion.” (p.442) The individual differences in children’s temperamental characteristics derive from nature and nurture in the sense that genetic differences and different environments lead to differences in children’s temperamental characteristics.
Lemery-Chalfant et al., (2013) conducted a study focusing on parents of 807 pairs of twins. The objective was to find out whether it was nature or nurture that had more of a role in temperament. Of the 807 pairs of twins, 301 being identical and 263 being fraternal, the parents reported on both of their children’s temperaments. Results from the study were used to discover how similar the twins were. If the identical twins who shared the same home environment were more similar than the fraternal twins who were in the same home environment then the research would conclude that temperament is more determined by genes as opposed to environment.
The active child theme highlighted by Siegler et al. (2017) refers to the theme as children who contribute to their own development through their own actions. This theme suggests that children’s temperamental characteristics can affect their environments and particularly their parent’s behaviour. (Belsky, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van IJzendoorn,, 2007; N. Eisenberg et al., 1999; K. J. Kim et al., 2001; E. H. Lee et al., 2013). An example of this in the Siegler et al. (2017) text is that parents of children who are angry and unregulated may become less patient and more punitive with their children. This leads to intensified discipline which may cause an increase in negative emotions in the children. On the contrary, children who are regulated may attain more warmth from parents which in turn predicts continued regulation and sociability in children. Together these studies outline that it is the joint workings of nature and nurture in which influence the individual differences in children’s temperament.
The role of temperament in social adjustment is prevalent since childhood. Siegler et al (2017). Children who fall on the dimension of temperament such as anger, positive emotion, and the ability to inhibit behaviour is closely linked with their social competence and maladjustment. (Coplan & Bullock, 2012; Eiden et al., 2009; N. Eisenberg et al., 2010; Kagan, 2012; Kochanska et al., 2008) This can be seen in the case of children who are too inhibited, as they are more likely than other children to have anxiety, depression and social withdrawal in their later life. (Biederman et al., 1990; Fox & Pine, 2012; Hirshfeld-Becker et al., 2007; Moffitt et al., 2007). Overall, this indicates that different problems related to adjustment can arise as a result of different temperamental tendencies.
Temperaments role in social adjustment and maladjustment is evident through studies such as the Dunedin longitudinal study. The study shows that behavioral manifestations of temperament varies based on certain factors. Longitudinal studies showcase how the stability of temperamental measures taken in infancy is related to personality types, physiological adjustment and social adjustment in later life Gillibrand (2016). The Dunedin study involves a cohort of babies who were recruited with parental consent from birth, between 1 April 1972 and 31 March 1973. The project looked at participant’s health, development and behaviour. The most recent follow up was done when the participants were in their late 30s. The study identified dimensions of temperament from the participants who underwent cognitive and motor tasks. Examiners used rating scales based on lack of control (inability to regulate impulsive expression, lack of persistence in problem solving and sensitivity to stress), inhibition – tendency, willingness or eagerness to explore new stimuli and sluggishness (withdrawn, unresponsive social behaviour; Caspi and Silva 1995).
From the results gathered from the tests conducted, one of the outcomes from this study were that children who were classified as under-controlled were reported to be anti-social, with more conflict with peers at work in later life. Whereas, 3 year olds who were in the inhibited and reserved were more likely to grow up and consider themselves introverted, with the inhibited individuals having less social support and more significantly a tendency towards a psychopathology. These attributes stand in contrast to children who were ‘confident’ or ‘well adjusted’ as they were likely to grow up to be extraverted individuals. (Gillibrand, 2016) The Dunedin study showcases the interconnection between certain behavioral tendencies and long term effects on social adjustment and maladjustment.
Despite the findings of the Dunedin longitudinal study, according to Gillbrand (2016) it is important to note that although the study found temperamental differences as identified by independent raters in childhood are linked not just to differences in self-rated personality, but also to peer-rated interpersonal functioning. A key notion that should be considered is that statistical links between early temperament traits and later outcomes does not mean that individual infants all stay the same as they become adults. (Gillibrand, 2016)
Goodness of fit is how well a child’s temperament matches the demand of a particular context. Family, according to Siegler et al. (2017), is considered to provide the most significant context related to goodness of fit. Studies indicate that children who are subjected to hostile/negative parenting tend to exhibit low emotion regulation and are less sympathetic towards others, this is in contrary to children who experience positive parenting.
Siegler et al. (2017) asserts that it’s important to note that in differential susceptibility, children’s temperaments make them highly reactive to both positive and negative family environments. Differential susceptibility which is known as the same temperament characteristic which results in negative outcomes for some children when exposed to harsh home environments, also causes them to blossom when the home environments are positive. Therefore this study suggests that the role of differential susceptibility is children who are subjected to different types of parenting are highly reactive towards their family environments and it can potentially lead to either flourishment of the child or negatively impact the child. However, it is important to consider that all children benefit from positive parenting whether or not their genetic and temperamental characteristics make them likely to be reactive to their environments. (Belsky et al., 2015).