ERIC Identifier: ED389963
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Teglasi, Hedwig
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Assessment of Temperament. ERIC Digest.
Temperament refers to basic dimensions of personality that are grounded in
biology and explain individual differences in the developmental process rather
than universal dynamics. While these dimensions show continuity over time, they
are subject to change with maturation and experience. The view of behavior as a
function of the organism and of the environment is basic to psychology.
Accordingly, temperament serves as a mechanism to explain how individuals
contribute to their own development in a given environmental context. Harmony
between persons and their surroundings is produced through bi-directional
interplay between inborn, temperamental attributes and external demands,
supports, and circumstances.
Temperament is generally identified with: a) the components of personality
that are biological in origin (e.g., Buss & Plomin, 1984); b) traits that
are relatively stable, cross situationally consistent, and evident throughout
the age span and diverse cultures (Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981); and c) the
style (how) rather than the content (what) or purpose (why) of behavior (Thomas
& Chess, 1977). In contrast, personality serves as a central organizer of
behavior that influences the expression of temperamental traits. Thus,
personality determines the specific content and purpose of behavior.
Temperament is currently an active area of research with documented
applicability to a variety of developmental and mental health outcomes such as
conscience formation, peer interaction, behavior problems, school achievement,
psychopathology, and vulnerability as well as resistance to stress. Given that
temperamental extremes constitute risk factors, specific temperament dimensions
can be flagged as early precursors of impaired adjustment.
Although the importance of the construct is well established, unresolved
conceptual issues and problems with measurement limit the applicability of this
knowledge by practitioners. The many choices of dimensions identified as
separate elements, how they should be combined, and their proper measurement
given these choices constitute a continuing debate. Reviews of available
instruments document their problems including inconsistent stability, low
interrater reliability, and questions about construct validity (Slabach, et al.,
1991). Nevertheless, increasing use of temperament scales call for research to
elaborate and refine conceptualizations to develop improved measures, and to
incorporate temperament constructs in theories of personality as well as in the
design of prevention and intervention strategies.
WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF TEMPERAMENT?
model of Thomas & Chess (1977) has been the basis for the development of the
most popular measures of temperament in the United States. The nine dimensions
are: mood, approach-withdrawal, intensity, threshold, rhythmicity,
distractibility, attention span, persistence, and adaptability. However,
substantial overlap found among some of these dimensions has led to questions
about their validity as separate constructs. Factor analyses suggest (see review
by Martin, et al., in press) that these nine dimensions separate into five
robust factors and two factors that are less consistent across measures and
ages. The five robust factors are: inhibition (approach-avoidance), negative
emotionality, adaptability, activity level, and task persistence. The two less
consistent factors are: threshold and biological rhythmicity. The five robust
dimensions emerging from the factor analytic study of childhood temperament
resemble the Big Five factors identified in the study of adult personality and
suggest a temperamental underpinning to personality.
Buss and Plomin (1984) emphasized the two criteria of early appearance and
heritability as defining properties of temperamental traits and developed a
measure based on the following three dimensions: emotionality, activity, and
sociability (EAS). Factor analysis of a selected set of items from the EAS and
the nine-dimensional model (ages 1-6) suggested the following factors:
emotionality, soothability, activity, attention span, and sociability (Rowe
& Plomin, 1977).
Rothbart and Derryberry (1981) defined temperament as constitutionally based
individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation (influenced over time
by heredity, maturation, and experience). Reactivity refers to the activation of
motor, affective, autonomic, and endocrine systems. Self-regulation refers to
the processes that modulate reactivity such as attention, approach-withdrawal,
inhibition, and self-soothing. This framework broadens the possibility of
identifying temperament dimensions to include those that do not appear within
the first years of life. Furthermore, this approach promotes the application of
research in areas such as emotion and cognition to refine temperament
dimensions. In developing a series of temperament questionnaires for various
ages, Rothbart and her colleagues identified as many as 15 dimensions of
temperament, some of which are refinements of those previously identified such
as emotionality (see Goldsmith & Rothbart, 1991).
WHAT ISSUES REMAIN IS ASSESSING TEMPERAMENT?
One problem in
the assessment of temperament is that measures for older children have been
either upward extensions of temperament constructs and scales derived from
observations on infants and toddlers or based on biological models without
regard to development. An emphasis on early appearing traits precludes the
consideration of characteristics that may be genetically programmed to emerge
later in time and disregard of developmental processes excludes from
consideration age-related variation in the expression of temperament.
Developmental changes in the elicitors of temperamental responses such as fear
or pleasure have been studied in the early years through contrived laboratory
situations, but such prototypical situations at later ages remain to be
Response parameters need to reflect the greater complexity and
differentiation of behavior with development. Commonly assessed response
parameters in laboratory studies with young children have been duration,
latency, and intensity. However, other parameters that tap the greater
organization of behavior with development might entail modulation,
self-regulation, or attunement to context Furthermore, age and rater differences
in the meaning of specific items on scales have not been investigated.
HOW ARE TEMPERAMENT AND PERSONALITY RELATED?
efforts to distinguish between temperament and the more general concept of
personality, the contrast between them is obscured by the following (see Prior,
1992): a) a common descriptive vocabulary; b) overlapping concepts; and c)
failure of empirical data to differentiate between temperament and personality
on the basis of biological factors.
The concept of self-regulation, widely studied as a personality variable, has
also been regarded as a temperamental trait. Self-regulation as a personality
construct appears to be defined in general terms encompassing the manner in
which an individual thinks, feels, acts, and reacts. The temperament view refers
to the basic processes involved in optimizing stimulation, alertness, and
Needed is an explanation of how the basic response styles identified as
temperamental traits express themselves in larger units of functioning such as
self-regulation in the broader sense. Temperament contributes to the coherence
of the individual's current functioning and to both continuity and lawful
changes in the developmental process. The individual's current state
(personality) can be framed in terms of unfolding processes (continuous
interaction between person and environment) that led to its development.
HOW DO TEMPERAMENT DIMENSIONS EXERT THEIR INFLUENCE?
mechanisms by which temperament dimensions exert their influence on broader
areas of functioning are less well understood than the traits themselves. Martin
(1994) reviewed two possible causal linkages between temperamental dispositions
and children's common problems in educational settings that focus on the
interplay of temperament with the environment:
1) Some components of the environment strengthen temperamental dispositions
because the environment that is actually experienced is linked with those
predispositions in three ways: a) on average, children share 50% of their own
genetic make up with each of their parents who then provide environments that
are influenced by their own genetic backgrounds; b) children's behavioral styles
(i.e., temperaments) elicit responses from others in the environment in ways
that strengthen their disposition; and c) children actively seek environments
that are in harmony with their predispositions.
2) Temperament acts as a predisposition to (or buffer against) risk in the
context of stressful conditions. According to this model, the role of the
environment varies with the degree of predispositional risk.
A third possibility, that temperament influences the perception and synthesis
of life experiences, is suggested by research on the impact of emotion on
information processing and memory. Similarly, attentional processes, considered
by many as temperamental, would be expected to have a very basic impact on the
interpretation of information. Over time, the cumulative influence of
temperament on the understanding of experiences (social and task) shapes the
individual's inner world including views of relationships and expectations about
events. These inner structures corroborate and amplify the original
predispositions. Strategies to intervene must be aimed at altering the processes
set into motion by the individual's temperamental dispositions.
Temperament is a compelling framework within
which to study the contribution of individual differences to the developmental
process. The documented association of temperament traits with diverse outcomes
linked with normal development and psychopathology have left no doubt about the
value of this construct. Future refinements in definitions and measurement as
well as a better understanding of how temperament exerts its influence will
promote greater application of these concepts to designing programs for
prevention and intervention in mental health and educational settings.
Buss, A., & Plomin, R. (1984). Temperament:
Early personality traits. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Goldsmith, H. H., & Rothbart, M. K. (1991). Contemporary instruments for
assessing early temperament by questionnaire and in the laboratory. In A.
Angleitner & J. Strelau (Eds.), Explorations in temperament: International
perspectives on theory and measurement. New York: Plenum.
Martin, R. P. (1994). Child temperament and common problems in schooling:
Hypotheses about causal connections. Journal of School Psychology, 32, 119-134.
Martin, R. P., Wisenbaker, J., & Huttunen, M. (In Press). Review of
factor analytic studies of temperament measures based on the Thomas-Chess
Structural Model: Implications for the Big Five. In C. Halverson, Jr., G.
Kohnstamm, & R. P. Martin Eds.), The developing structure of temperament and
personality from infancy to adulthood. Hillsdale, N. J.: Erlbaum.
McCrae, R. R. (Ed.) (1992). The five-factor model: Issues and applications
(Special issue). Journal of Personality, 60.
Prior, M. (1992). Childhood temperament. Journal of Child Psychology and
Psychiatry, 33, 249-279.
Rothbart, M. K., & Derryberry, D. (1981). Development of individual
differences in temperament. In M. E. Lamb & A. L. Brown (Eds), Advances in
developmental psychology (Vol. I, pp. 37-86). Hillsdale, N. J.: Erlbaum.
Rowe, D.C., & Plomin, R. (1977). Temperament in early childhood, Journal
of Personality Assessment, 41, 150-156.
Thomas, A., & Chess, S. (1977). Temperament and development. New York: