Introduction & Temperament

Introduction & Temperament


An individual’s personality is made up of the characteristics you would list in order to describe them. We would know what they are like by observing their behaviour and listening to what they have to say. The personality of an individual is likely to stay relatively constant, although it can change slowly over the years.


Studies of Temperament

An individual’s temperament relates to those features of the personality which are inherited. Given than this is an inbuilt part of an individual’s nature there is very little than can be done to alter it. Some people are better than others at finding ways of overcoming problems caused by temperament. A naturally fiery person, for example, may develop strategies to calm themselves down in the face of provocation.

Thomas, Chess and Birch (1977) set out to discover if the way we respond to the environment changes over our lifetime. This was a longitudinal study (taking place over many years) and involved 133 children being observed at intervals from infancy through to early adulthood. The parents were also interviewed about their children’s reaction to change.

The 3x categories The children were split into three categories: ‘easy’, ‘difficult’ and ‘slow to warm up’. The ‘easy’ children were happy most of the time and responded well to change. Those who were difficult would cry a lot and found change challenging. The ‘slow to warm up’ children were slow to adapt to changes but were reasonably happy when they had done so.

Conclusions: There was generally a high level of consistency in terms of how each child/young adult responded to change in their lives. It was therefore concluded that temperament is an inherited characteristic.

Limitations The researchers were relying to some extent on the honesty of the parents in this experiment. The children were also from a narrow cross section of society i.e. they were all middle class and from New York. The individuals concerned were not observed as they moved into middle and old age. The results may have been different if this had been the case.

Buss and Plomin (1984) To further test the idea that temperament is inherited Buss and Plomin observed the behaviour of 228 monozygotic twins (grown from one fertilised egg) and 172 dizygotic twins (grown from two separate eggs) when they were all five years old. They rated each twin according to levels of emotionality, activity and sociability. They discovered that there was a closer similarity in temperament between the pairs of monozygotic twins than there were between the pairs of dizygotic twins.

Conclusions and limitations It was concluded that genetics play the main role in forming temperament. However, perhaps not enough consideration was given to their identical upbringing and the influence this may have had on their behaviour. It could also be the case that twins don’t reflect the wider population in genetic terms.

Kagan and Snidman (1991) On this occasion 4-month-old babies were observed to see how they responded to being separated from their caregiver and then presented with a number of different toys. Depending on the distress they showed the babies were split into three categories: high reactive (20% of them) or low reactive (40%). The other babies fell somewhere between the two. 11 years later Kagan and Snidman discovered that these children demonstrated roughly similar levels of reaction to new situations.

Conclusions and limitations The conclusion was that these responses were genetically influenced. Once again, however, the results were heavily dependent on the interpretations of the researchers. The follow up test 11 years later would not have involved the same research methods as those used when the babies were four months old. The experiment took place in a controlled environment which may have provoked a less realistic response.