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A Psychobiological Approach to the Development of Temperament

A Psychobiological Approach to the Development of Temperament

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Published by Clementi11
Temperament, psychobiology, neuroanatomy, moral psychology, psychology, psychopharmacology
Temperament, psychobiology, neuroanatomy, moral psychology, psychology, psychopharmacology

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Published by: Clementi11 on Apr 14, 2013
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A Psychobiological Approach to the Development of Temperament
Mary K. RothbartUniversity of OregonDouglas DerryberryOregon State UniversityMichael I. PosnerUniversity of OregonCorrespondence may be addressed to Dr. Mary K. Rothbart, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. This work was funded in part by NIMH Grant 43361 to the first and thirdauthors.
C
ITATION
:
Rothbart, M.K., Derryberry, D., and Posner, M.I. (1994). A psychobiological approach to thedevelopment of temperament. In J.E. Bates & T.D. Wachs (Eds.),
Temperament: Individual differences atthe interface of biology and behavior 
(pp. 83-116). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
 
Psychobiological Approach to the Development of Temperament 2
A Psychobiological Approach to the Development of Temperament
Temperament research investigates constitutionally based individual differences in basicpsychological processes of emotion, motivation and attention (Bates, 1989). As a domain of study itoccupies a particularly interesting location with respect to psychology and neuroscience. Although mostof temperament research completed to date is behavioral, temperamental differences can also be studiedat the neural systems level (see reviews by Gunnar, 1990, and Rothbart, 1989a). It is neverthelessimportant to remember that behavior is itself biological, a critical part of the adaptive functioning of theorganism (Gunnar, 1990).Our approach to temperament follows the distinction we have made between temperamentalreactivity and self-regulation, with reactivity defined as characteristics of the individual's reactions tostimulus change, reflected in the temporal and intensive parameters of the somatic, endocrine andautonomic nervous systems (Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981). Self-regulation is defined as processesfunctioning to modulate this reactivity, including behavioral patterns of approach and avoidance, andattentional orientation and selection (Rothbart & Posner, 1985). In this chapter, we first considerbehavioral dimensions of temperament, reviewing briefly some of the recent findings on higher orderfactors of individuality in temperament and personality. We then attempt to develop links between thesebroad dimensions and models from affective and cognitive neuroscience. Finally, a developmental modelresulting from this effort is described.
The "Big Three" and the "Big Five"
Over the past four decades, students of personality have used factor analytic methods to developa taxonomy of individual differences (Goldberg, 1990). In recent years, research in this area hasincreasingly identified a limited set of higher order factors for describing personality (Digman, 1990;John, 1989; McCrae & Costa, 1987). Although there remains considerable variability across studies inexactly how these superfactors are to be measured and defined, five higher order factors (the "Big Five")have frequently been extracted, including broad dimensions of 1) Neuroticism/Negative Emotionality, 2)Extraversion/Positive Emotionality, 3) Conscientiousness/Constraint, 4) Agreeableness and 5) Openness.When only three such superfactors are reported (the "Big Three"), they tend to correspond to the firstthree of the superfactors identified above: Neuroticism/Negative Emotionality, Extraversion/PositiveEmotionality, and Conscientiousness/Constraint (Tellegen, 1985).These taxonomic results have been exciting in a number of ways. First, the general factorsappear to emerge whether the measures involve self report or the report of others, and they emerge forboth trait-descriptive adjective and more specific behavioral items. Second, the general factors haveemerged from work on personality in children as well as adults (Digman, 1990). Finally and mostimportant for this paper, the "Big Three," as well as four of the "Big Five" factors show quite remarkablesimilarity to the dimensions of temperament emerging from studies on infancy and early childhood (Ahadi& Rothbart, in press; Martin, Wisenbaker, & Hutunen, in press; Rothbart, 1989a).
Higher Order Temperament Factors in Infancy and Childhood
In behavioral observations of newborn temperament employing the Brazelton Neonatal BehavioralAssessment Scale, four factors have frequently been identified, two of which include aspects of negativeemotionality (for more detail, see review by Rothbart, 1989b). These two factors include 1) irritability,tension and activity, 2) emotional state lability, rapidity of buildup and self-quieting, 3) alert orienting,and 4) response decrement during drowsiness and sleep (Strauss & Rourke, 1978). Kaye (1978) hasidentified a single negative reactivity factor appearing to combine the first two of Strauss and Rourke'sfactors, including peak of excitement, rapidity of buildup, and irritability.Laboratory studies have found levels of neonatal distress proneness to predict observed distress at1, 3 and 4 months (Birns, Barten & Bridger, 1969), distress at 9 months, and distress, lower attentivenessto objects and persons, and more changeable activity level at 24 months (Matheny, Riese & Wilson, 1985;Riese, 1987 in the Louisville Twin Study). Reports of stability of negative affect from the neonatal periodto 15 months have also been reported (Larson, DiPietro, & Porges, 1987), although the Louisville study did
 
Psychobiological Approach to the Development of Temperament 3
not find predictability of negative affect from the newborn period to 12 or 18 months (Matheny et al.,1985).Most research on dimensions of temperamental variability in older infants has employed parent-report questionnaires rather than laboratory observations, and most of the research has been based uponthe New York Longitudinal Study's (NYLS) nine temperament dimensions (Thomas & Chess, 1977; Thomas,Chess, Birch, Hertzig, & Korn, 1963). Nevertheless, results of item level factor analytic research on NYLSscales (Bohlin, Hagekull, & Lindhagen, 1981; Sanson, Prior, Garino, Oberklaid, & Sewell, 1987) incombination with dimensions emerging from other theoretical approaches (Buss & Plomin, 1975, 1984;Rothbart, 1981) have allowed us to identify a shorter list of higher order factors in infancy (Rothbart &Mauro, 1990). Two of these factors involve distress proneness. The first includes the infants' distress andbehavioral inhibition to novel and challenging stimuli, sometimes called Fear. The second includes otherIrritability, including distress to limitations or frustration. The third factor includes Positive Affect andapproach. The fourth involves attentional Persistence, and the fifth Activity Level. A sixth, relativelysmall factor, is Rhythmicity.In older children, we have factor analyzed parent report temperament scales for children ages 4-5 and 6-7 years, and ages 6-7 in data collected from the Peoples' Republic of China. In this work, factorshave emerged that are quite similar to the "Big Three" in adulthood (Ahadi & Rothbart, in press; Ahadi,Rothbart & Ye, 1992). These include an Approach/Positive Affect factor including scales assessingapproach, high intensity pleasure, and activity level, with a negative loading for shyness. In the Chinasample and for 4-5 year old U.S. children, this factor also includes smiling and laughter. The second,Negative Affect factor is defined by positive loadings for discomfort, fear, anger/frustration, sadness,shyness, and a negative loading for soothability. In both the US and China, approach also loadsmoderately negatively on this factor. The third, Inhibitory Control factor is defined primarily byinhibitory control, attentional focusing, low intensity pleasure and perceptual sensitivity. For the US 6-7year olds only, smiling and laughter loaded chiefly on this factor. These factors show considerablesimilarity to the adult "Big Three" factors of Extraversion, Neuroticism and Constraint, withApproach/Positive Affect mapping on Extraversion, the Negative Affect factor on Neuroticism, and theInhibitory Control factor on Constraint.For a very small sample of infants observed in the laboratory, we have found infant laboratorymeasures to predict childhood parent-report measures of fear, approach and anger/frustration when thechildren are seven years old (Rothbart, Derryberry, & Hershey, in preparation). We also found thatinfants' behavioral caution in the laboratory predicted later attentional focusing, and infants' activitylevel and smiling and laughter predicted later approach. Our results suggest that even early measures of temperament assess variability in children's behavior that will be important in later life.How might we think about results of these developmental studies? First, we note that three of the higher order factors found in infancy are associated with basic emotions: Positive Affect, Fear, andIrritability/frustration, and that they are also associated with the motivational dispositions related toeach emotion: approach for Positive Affect, behavioral inhibition and avoidance for Fear and attack forIrritability/Frustration. Second, developmentally, a general distress proneness disposition is observablein the newborn period, earlier than dispositions toward positive affectivity and attentional control.Third, Fear and Irritability/frustration sometimes appear together in a more general Negative Affectivityfactor, e.g. in the newborn infant and during childhood; in later infancy they are more differentiated.The later developing Inhibitory Control factor (seen in children 4-7 years and adults) is of particularinterest because it does not refer to individual differences in emotional reactivity, but to individualdifferences in self-regulation that are related to attention.If we consider these higher order factors to represent individual differences in basic emotions andrelated motivations, along with attentional control, then models for their underlying neurophysiologyfrom the affective and cognitive neurosciences will aid our understanding of them. For example, inLeDoux's (1989) view, emotions represent information processing circuits assessing the evaluative meaningof situations and events to the individual. The neural circuits involved in this analysis are geneticallyprepared, are found in other species, and are organized around events likely to be significant to thewelfare of the organism. Outcomes of this affective analysis are organized responses that can be studiedat physiological, cognitive and behavioral levels.

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