Characteristics of Temperament
"Theories if psychological development, whatever their bias, generally presume a linear predictability sequence from conception or birth onward."
From Thomas and Chess' quantitative inter-year correlations of temperament for years one to five, and from the qualitative derived vignettes, the authors conclude that temperament does not necessarily follow a consistent, linear course.
The stability of temperament has been reported by Buss and Plomin (1984), and Costa, McCrea, and Anenberg (1980). Among the most stable personality traits reported are emotionality, activity, and sociability. Reported retest coefficients for temperamental traits measured by the Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament Survey at 6- and 12-year intervals ranged from .59 to .87 (Van Heck, 1991). It can be said that temperament variables show moderate to high stability across time. Kagan, Reznick and Sidman (1986) reported that,
"...these qualities can persist into adulthood...The corpus of evidence gathered to date implies that the behavioral qualities of inhibition and lack of inhibition to the unfamiliar are robust and moderately stable traits, even though the underlying predisposition can be expressed in various ways" (p.62).
Mehrabian (1991) proposes that for most practical purposes, attempts to modify temperaments are doomed.
Instead, one only need note the following relationship to discover approaches to behavior ( and not temperament) modification. Behavior = f (temperament, situation, temperament X situation). If temperament is (for all practical purposes) reduced to a constant in the preceeding equation, one realizes that behavior change can be achieved most readily through situational change" (p.84).
More specifically, Mehrabian believes that the more general a trait is that is to be modified, the greater the difficulty in modifying it.
"Just as environmental influences can have a general and lasting effect on temperament following thousands of learning trials, by the same token, the modification of tmperament would require similar, repetitious, and extensive training" (p.84).
The environmental factors that favor the individuation of temperament in one direction or another,
"...may be so generally operative in a given cultural milieu as to produce a pattern of behavior which is characteristic of virtually all members of a given social class or national group, and yet strikingly different from the typical behavior produced by another culture. This observation of such differences provides the most irrefutable evidence for the strength of environment in modifying temperament, for it is now generally accepted that the constitutional differences between different peoples cannot be responsible for more than a very minor part of such differences" (Diamond, 1957, p.122).
The study of temperament and development in a variety of cultural contexts is also noted by Super and Harkness (1986). The issue of culture leads the authors to a fundamental question about the organization, function, and development of behavior. The authods note that there is a "...source of between-group variation in the bahaviors commonly used to index temperament that are not major sources of within-group variance, or at least have not been well investigated within samples because they lack visibility and do not fit easily in the traditional dialectic between nature and nurture" (p.145).
"Kardnier (1939, 1945) has tried to demonstrate how societies cultivate specific types of basic personality structure in their members, through ways in which they are handled as children. Eickson (1950) has contrasted the early training and later personality of the Sioux Indians, who live on the Dakota plains and are traditionally hunters, with the Yurok, who live along the Klamath River, and depend upon salmon fishing for their livlihood. Davis and Havinghurst (1946) compared the manner in which middle-class Chicago mothers, both Negro and White, treated their infants. Gower and Rickman (1949) believed the manner in which the people of Great Russia swaddle their infants helps to produce impassivity and covert hostility which appear as prominent traits in their adult personalities" (Diamond, 1991, p.201).
Rothbart (1991) documents the strong similarities between the dimensions of temperament emerging from developmental analysis and the majority of personality dimensions from factor analysis of scales assessing personality in adulthood. Rothbart notes that in Tellegen's work,
"...he has extracted two higher order personality factors labeled Positive Emotionality and Negative Emotionality. Tellegen identifies the Positive Emotionality as assessing feelings of well-being, social potency, and pleasurable engagement, and the Negative Emotionality dimensions as assessing feelings of stress, worry, resentment, and negative engagement. He (Tellegen) also identified a third higher order personality dimension labeled Constraint, which assesses characteristics of cautiosness, restraint, and timidity versus impulsivity and sensation-seeking" (p.87)
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Peter L. Heineman
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