Structure of childhood temperaments
Infants’ and children’s personality structure is studied by studying their ‘temperaments’. To me, personality structure enfolds over time and there are some traits that are more genetic and heritable in nature while the remaining are more self-chosen and under self-control. The former may be named more temperamental in nature, while the latter may be named more character strengths like.
A model of personality that subsumes but artificially divdes the personality traits into temperaments and character traits is the Cloninger‘s TCI based model of personality. Although popular and theory based, it at times lacks empirical support.
Infant and child psychologists, study personality under the rubric of temperament, as it is assumed that much of the child’s personality is due to genetics and developmental influences are not yet strong/influential enough.
So what are the popular models of childhood temperaments? A synthesis is provided by Zuckerman in his influential book “Psychobiology of personality”. He discusses the models of many influential child theorists and comes to the final list of 6 temperaments that are most relevant/common across schema.
These are (in a developmentally unfolding order (as per me)) :
- Negative emotionality – gets upset and cries easily, is easily frightened and/or has a quick temper, and is not easygoing
- Approach (sensation seeking) – Approach towards cues of reward or novelty with positive affect
- Activity (energy/vigor)- always on the go from the time of waking, cannot sit still for long, fidgets at meals and similar occasions, prefers active games to quiet ones
- Persistence (perseverance) – The length of time a particular activity is pursued and the continuation in an activity in spite of attempts at interference
- Anger/frustration – Frustration/ anger in response to goal-blocking
- Sociability – likes to be with others, makes friends easily, prefers to play with others rather than alone, is not shy.
- Impulsivity (spontaneity)- difficulty in learning self-control and resistance to temptation, gets bored easily, goes from toy to toy quickly.
- Sensitivity (sentimentality) – The intensity of stimulation in any sensory modality that is necessary to evoke a response
To boot, the first four temperaments are a dynamics between the polarities of approach(pleasure) – withdrawal (pain) vis-a-vis the polarity of arousal (active) and inhibition (passive).
Similarly, the last four temperaments can be conceived of as the dynamics between self/other and being broadly or narrowly focused and engaged.
To elaborate, the first group of temperaments can be associated with avoidance motivation and the last group with approach motivation. In the former, a sensitivity to feel threatening stimuli painfully leads to negative emotionality or Fear; while when derives pleasure from the same one feels Thrill/excitement/surprise and has sensation seeking or approach temperament. Similarly, a sensitivity to approach the desirable stimuli actively by showing Activity or passively by showing interest (from a distance) leads to the other two dimensions.
Similar dynamic exists for e.g. for anger/frustration and sociability – when one is governed by social concerns and is focused on others (con-specifics) , at times of conflicts/stress one may fight/show aggression or utilize the strategy of tend/befriend. The inclination towards former results in aggressive/conduct disorder/anti-social temperaments; while a propensity for latter results in agreeable/sociable temperaments.
Similarly, one can hypothesize that when one is self-focused and in pursuit of solitary activities, one either is very internally driven, impulsive and spontaneous; or one is more externally sensitive to context and is still socially conformant.
Finally, here are the mappings between childhood temperaments and adult personality traits as per me:
- -ve emotionality: Neuroticism
- Sensation seeking/approach: Extraversion
- Activity : Extraversion
- Persistence: Conscientiousness
- Anger/frustration: Non-conformity
- Sociability: Agreeableness
- Implusivity: Extraversion
- Sensitivity: Neurotincism
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