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Chapter: Psychology: Development

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The Role of Temperament - Socioemotional Development in Infancy and Childhood

The differences in children’s attachment styles can have important implications for later development.

THE ROLE OF TEMPERAMENT

 

The differences in children’s attachment styles can have important implications for later development. But why do children differ in this way? And in what other ways do children differ? The answers begin before birth.

 

Even in the uterus, some babies kick and move around more than others, and these differences in activity level continue after the child is born. Likewise, some babies are easily upset; others seem far calmer. Some babies are fearful when they encounter a novel stimulus; others show little fear and seem to constantly seek out new stimulation. Some babies seem to adjust easily to new circumstances; others seem upset by even small changes in their routine or surroundings (Figure 14.26).

 

Scholars refer to these variations as differences in temperament, defined as the char-acteristic pattern of emotion and behavior that is evident from an early age and deter-mined to a considerable extent by genetic patterns (Chess & Thomas, 1982; Rothbart & Bates, 1998; Thomas & Chess, 1984). According to some theories, the child’s tempera-ment provides the core of his developing personality.

 

There has been debate, however, over how to describe an infant’s temperament. One categorization scheme distinguishes “easy babies,” who are playful and adapt quickly to new circumstances; “difficult babies,” who are irritable and try to withdraw from new sit-uations; and “slow to warm up babies,” who are low in their activity level and moderate in most of their responses (Chess & Thomas, 1982). A different scheme categorizes babies in terms of three dimensions—roughly how active the baby is, whether the baby is generally cheerful or not, and whether the baby seems to have good control over itself (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). No matter how temperament is categorized, though, it seems to be heavily influenced by genetics. We know this because identical twins (who have the same genome) tend to have very similar temperaments; fraternal twins (who share only half their genes) tend to be less similar in temperament (A. Buss & Plomin, 1984).


 

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