Description: Consider this quote from John Watson, one of the founders of Behaviorism: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. (Watson, 1930”). Aside from the dated sound of the quote, think about what it is suggesting. Watson, Behaviorism and philosophers like John Locke held to the view that newborn children are tabula rasa (blank slates) with no inherent tendencies to develop in any particular direction but are, instead, waiting to be written upon by their experiences in their families and environments. Does that sound like a good description of how development proceeds? It is certainly an extreme position. What about the obvious, polar opposite, approach that developmental outcomes are all tied to a child’s genetic/biological make-up? That sounds a bit extreme too, don’t you think? Development must really involve a bit of both or, better yet. an interaction of both right? So think about this. What role does an infant’s temperament play in how their development proceeds and in what sort of child, teen and adult they develop into? As you think about that for a minute fold in this consideration. Do not think of temperament as a developmental endpoint (as in a difficult infant temperament becomes a difficult teen or adult temperament or personality). Think about the developmental pathway(s) that infants will crawl and then walk as they move towards adulthood and then think about how a set of behavioral or reactive tendencies an infant might be born with could influence or factor into how their development proceeds. Once you have a rough theory for the role of temperament in development sorted out have a read through the very nicely written overview of research into the role of temperament in development contained in the article linked below to see how your theory measures up to those worked out by development psychologists.
Source: Born that way, Gina Mireault, Aeon.
Date: January 17, 2023
So, children do not grow and develop alone in caves. I know that sounds like a stupidly simple thing to say but it helps the point out that development occurs through the ongoig interactions between the child and their physical and social environments (e.g., parents, siblings, extended family, peers, neighbors, communities, etc. .. it is all interactive). Temperament is a term for describing how the child enters into those interactions. How those interactions go, how the child’s world and the people in it react or respond to the child contributes to the ongoing interactions that make up development. So, yes, temperament predicts development outcomes, sort of but it is perhaps more accurate to say that how the child and the world interact figures in how the child comes to be in the world, it is all interaction and THAT is a useful way to think about development (whether you are doing it, parenting it, or observing/studying it).
Questions for Discussion:
- What is infant/child temperament?
- What role does temperament play in children’s, teens’ and adults’ development?
- What is involved in taking an interactive approach to understanding and discussing child development?
References (Read Further):
Chess, S., & Thomas, A. (1990). The New York longitudinal study (NYLS): The young adult periods. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 35(6), 557-561. Link
Rothbart, M. K. (2007). Temperament, development, and personality. Current directions in psychological science, 16(4), 207-212. Link
Schwartz, C. E., Kunwar, P. S., Greve, D. N., Moran, L. R., Viner, J. C., Covino, J. M., … & Wallace, S. R. (2010). Structural differences in adult orbital and ventromedial prefrontal cortex predicted by infant temperament at 4 months of age. Archives of general psychiatry, 67(1), 78-84. Link
Nigg, J. T., Karalunas, S. L., Gustafsson, H. C., Bhatt, P., Ryabinin, P., Mooney, M. A., … & Wilmot, B. (2020). Evaluating chronic emotional dysregulation and irritability in relation to ADHD and depression genetic risk in children with ADHD. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 61(2), 205-214. Link
Mireault, G. C., & Reddy, V. (2020). Making sense of infants’ differential responses to incongruity. Human development, 64(2), 55-63. Link
Gaias, L. M., Räikkönen, K., Komsi, N., Gartstein, M. A., Fisher, P. A., & Putnam, S. P. (2012). Cross‐cultural temperamental differences in infants, children, and adults in the United States of America and Finland. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 53(2), 119-128. Link
McClowry, S. G., Rodriguez, E. T., & Koslowitz, R. (2008). Temperament-based intervention: Re-examining goodness of fit. International Journal of Developmental Science, 2(1-2), 120-135. Link
Belsky, J., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & Van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2007). For better and for worse: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences. Current directions in psychological science, 16(6), 300-304. Link