Individual Temperament

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Individual Temperament
Infancy and Childhood: Social and Emotional Development
Infancy and Childhood: Social and
Emotional Development
䉴 How do infants become attached to their caregivers?
FORMING A BOND Mutual eye contact, exaggerated facial expressions, and
shared “baby talk” are an important part
of the early social interactions that promote an enduring bond of attachment
between parent and child.
Life for the child is more than learning about objects, doing math problems, and getting good grades. It is also about social relationships and emotional reactions. From
the first months onward, infants are sensitive to those around them (Mumme & Fernald,
2003), and they are both attracted by and attractive to other people—especially parents and other caregivers.
During the first hour or so after birth, mothers gaze into their infants’ eyes and give
them gentle touches (Klaus & Kennell, 1976). This is the first opportunity for the
mother to display her bond to her infant—an emotional tie that begins even before the
baby is born. Psychologists once believed that this immediate contact was critical—that
the mother-infant bond would never be strong if the opportunity for early interaction
was missed. Research has revealed, however, that such interaction is a luxury, not a
requirement for a close relationship (Myers, 1987). Mothers and fathers, whether biological or adoptive, gradually form close attachments to their infants by interacting with
them day after day.
As the mother gazes at her baby, the baby is gazing back. By the time infants are two
days old, they recognize—and like—their mother’s face. They will suck more vigorously
to see a videotaped image of her face than to see that of a stranger (Walton, Bower, &
Bower, 1992). Soon, they begin to respond to the mother’s facial expressions as well.
By the time they are a year old, children use their mothers’ emotional expressions to
guide their own behavior in uncertain situations (Hertenstein & Campos, 2004; Saarni,
2006). If the mother looks frightened when a stranger approaches, for example, the
child is more likely to avoid the stranger.
Individual Temperament
temperament An individual’s basic,
natural disposition, evident from
From the moment infants are born, they differ from one another in the emotions they
express. Some infants are happy, active, and vigorous; they splash, thrash, and wriggle.
Others lie still most of the time. Some infants approach new objects with enthusiasm;
others turn away or fuss. Some infants whimper; others kick, scream, and wail. Characteristics such as these make up the infant’s temperament. Temperament refers to the
infant’s individual style and frequency of expressing needs and emotions; it is constitutional, biological, and genetically based. Although temperament mainly reflects nature’s
contribution to the beginning of an individual’s personality, it can also be affected by the
prenatal environment, including—as noted earlier—the mother’s smoking and drug use.
In some of the earliest research on infant temperament, Alexander Thomas and Stella
Chess (1977) found three main temperament patterns. Easy babies, the most common
kind, get hungry and sleepy at predictable times, react to new situations cheerfully, and
seldom fuss. Difficult babies are irregular and irritable. Those in the third group, slow-towarm-up babies, react warily to new situations but eventually come to enjoy them.
Traces of early temperamental characteristics weave their way throughout childhood
(Rothbart & Bates, 2006). Easy infants usually stay easy (Zhou et al., 2004); difficult
infants often remain difficult, sometimes developing attention and aggression problems
in childhood (Else-Quest et al., 2006; Guerin, Gottfried, & Thomas, 1997). Timid toddlers tend to become shy preschoolers, restrained and inhibited eight-year-olds, and
somewhat anxious teenagers (Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2001). However, in temperament, as in cognitive development, nature interacts with nurture. Many events take
place between infancy and adulthood that can shift the individual’s development in one
direction or the other.
One influential factor suggested by Thomas and Chess is the match between the
infant’s temperament and the parents’ expectations, desires, and personal styles. When
parents believe they are responsible for the infant’s behavior, an easy child might reassure
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