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SOCIAL BEHAVIOR AND PERSONALITY, 2014, 42(9), 1421-1430

Society for Personality Research


http://dx.doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2014.42.9.1421

STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL


EXPRESSION IN 1- TO 3-YEAR-OLD CHILDREN
MARTA LOSONCZY-MARSHALL
Salisbury University
I examined the stability of emotional expression in 18 toddlers aged 1 year, 2 years, and 3
years using laboratory observation. The children were presented with 5 social stimuli. Their
emotional expressions were video recorded and later behaviorally coded by 2 independent
raters. Average latency, intensity, and duration scores for emotional expression for each
child were calculated at ages 1, 2, and 3 years and compared using Friedmans test. Intensity
of emotional expression in the children showed stability over the 3 years; no significant
differences were found between ages 1, 2, and 3 (2(2) = 1.78, p = .41). Additionally, based
on parental questionnaires for each year, from 1 to 3 years of age intensity, mood, activity,
approach, and adaptability were 5 dimensions of temperament that showed stability.
Keywords: emotional expression, intensity, temperament, stability, toddler.

Temperament has been defined in a number of ways (Buss & Plomin, 1984;
Rothbart, 2011; Strelau, 2008; Thomas & Chess, 1977). Although definitions
vary, these theorists all agree that temperament refers to early individual
differences in how each person reacts to stimuli. Emotional reactions are also
part of early individual differences in how each person reacts and, therefore,
emotional reactions are considered to be part of temperament.
Emotional reactions are observed in emotional expressions. James (1981)
defined an emotional expression as a reaction to a particular stimulus that
is evident in bodily expression. In humans that bodily expression includes
facial expression, vocal expression, gestures, and posture (Goldsmith, 1993;
Goldsmith & Campos, 1986). These outward emotional expressions all reflect

Marta Losonczy-Marshall, Department of Psychology, Salisbury University.


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Marta Losonczy-Marshall,
Department of Psychology, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD 21801, United States of America.
Email: melosonczy@salisbury.edu

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STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

and communicate inner states to others and are often referred to as state emotion
(Lewis, 1998).
Emotional expressions are reactions that vary in their temporal characteristics (Buss, 1991; Denham, Lehman, Moser, & Reeves, 1995; Hudlicka,
2002; Losonczy, 2001; Strelau, 2008), such as latency in responding, intensity
of expression, and duration of expression. There may be variations in these
temporal characteristics from one individual to another. Additionally, individuals
may also develop tendencies to react in specific ways; these tendencies are
often viewed in terms of trait emotion (Strelau, 2008). For example, a particular
individual may typically express anger intensely and be recognized for that trait.
According to Hudlicka (2002, p. 616) traits contribute to the dynamic characteristics of the affective states themselves, that is, their generation, intensity,
duration and expression. This means that traits (or tendencies) contribute to the
latency, intensity, and duration of emotional expressions. In other words, trait
emotion may influence state emotion. If trait emotion influences state emotion
then one would expect that, over time, there would be stability in the emotional
aspects of temperament as well as stability in the dynamic characteristics of
emotional expressions.
Previous researchers on the emotional aspects of temperament have reported
stability. Some researchers have focused on infants (Carranza Carnicero,
Perez-Lopez, Del Carmen Gonzlez Salinas, & Martinez-Fuentes, 2000;
Goldsmith & Campos, 1990; Riese, 1987; Rothbart, Derryberry, & Hershey,
2000; Sullivan, Lewis, & Alessandri, 1992; Wachs, Pollitt, Cueto, & Jacoby,
2004). Two studies have been conducted in which researchers have examined the
stability of the emotional aspects of temperament in childhood (Durbin, Hayden,
Klein, & Olino, 2007; Van den Akker, Dekovi, Prinzie, & Asscher, 2010).
Similarly, there are only two studies in which researchers have examined the
stability of the emotional aspects of temperament from one developmental period
to another (Casalin, Luyten, Vliegen, & Meurs, 2012; Neppl et al., 2010). All
of these researchers examined the emotional aspects of temperament in various
ways. Some examined emotional expressions (states) over time (Carranza
Carnicero et al., 2000; Goldsmith & Campos, 1990; Riese, 1987; Rothbart et al,
2000; Sullivan et al., 1992; Wachs et al., 2004), whereas others examined trait
emotion (Casalin et al., 2012; Durbin et al., 2007; Neppl et al., 2010; Van den
Akker et al., 2010). Durbin et al. examined the emotional aspects of temperament
using laboratory measures (The Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery
[Lab-TAB]; Goldsmith, Reilly, Lemery, Longley, & Prescott, 1993). Other
researchers have assessed parental reports of temperament using the Toddler
Behavior Assessment Questionnaire (Neppl et al., 2010; Van den Akker et al.,
2010), or the Revised Infant Behavior Questionnaire and the Early Childhood
Behavior Questionnaire (Casalin et al., 2012). What is still lacking is research

STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

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to examine the dynamic characteristics of emotional expression, such as latency,


intensity, and duration.
In 2007 I conducted a study in which I compared the latency, intensity, and
duration of preschool childrens emotional expressions in response to similar
stimuli used to assess these factors during the infancy period (LosonczyMarshall, 2007). Although duration times did not show stability, there was
relative stability in the latency and in the intensity of emotional expression
between infancy and early childhood, in that individuals maintained their relative
position in the distribution from one time to another. It is still unclear whether
or not, as measured by significant differences from one year to another, there
is absolute stability in the latency and intensity of emotional expressions from
infancy to early childhood.
My purpose in this study was to examine the absolute stability of the dynamic
characteristics of emotional expression (latency, intensity, and duration) between
the ages of 1, 2, and 3 years. Based on my earlier research (Losonczy, 2001;
Losonczy-Marshall, 2007) I hypothesized that there would be absolute stability
in the intensity of emotional expression (facial, vocal, and bodily components
combined) from infancy to early childhood. I also hypothesized that both latency
time (seconds between stimulus and emotional expression) and duration of
emotional expression would be more likely to change with age and, therefore,
would not show absolute stability.
Additionally, because temperament influences the dynamic characteristics
of emotional expression (latency, intensity, and duration; Hudlicka, 2002),
I measured temperament using the Carey Temperament Scales (Carey &
McDevitt, 1995). I used this scale because it is based on the following nine
dimensions of temperament as classified by Thomas and Chess (1977): intensity,
mood, approach, adaptability, activity, persistence, distractibility, rhythmicity,
and threshold. Based on findings in previous studies in which stability in
temperament was reported (Pedlow, Sanson, Prior, & Oberklaid, 1993; Van
den Akker et al., 2010), I hypothesized that there would be stability in the nine
dimensions of temperament.
Method
Participants

In the first year of the study participants were 34 mother and toddler dyads;
because of factors such as attrition, developmental screening, only 18 toddlers
(nine girls, 50%; and nine boys, 50%) comprised the final longitudinal sample
at the end of the 3 years. A majority of the children (78%) were Caucasian and
from middle-class families. At the first visit the childrens age ranged from 12 to
15 months (M = 13 months; SD = 1.21).

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STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

Procedure
Recruitment of participants. The study was conducted at Salisbury University,

situated in Salisbury, Maryland, USA. Potential participant families were


identified through birth announcements in the Daily Times, the local newspaper
in Salisbury. Letters were sent to those families informing them of the study
and giving contact information. Flyers were also posted in day care centers,
preschools, and pediatricians offices.
Laboratory visits, developmental screening, and video recording. Over the
3 years duration of the study, the children who took part were seen at ages 1, 2, and
3 years in the laboratory. At each visit, parents were informed of the procedure,
given a consent form, and a temperament questionnaire. The parents completed a
demographic questionnaire at the first visit. I conducted developmental screening
of the children during each laboratory visit utilizing the Denver Developmental
Screening Test, a pediatric screening tool designed to assess motor, language, and
adaptive skills (Frankenburg et al., 1996). I included in the final sample (100%
of final sample) only those children who tested as normal a minimum of two
times and 67% of the final sample tested as normal at each of the three annual
screenings. During each visit, each child was exposed for 30 seconds to five
social stimuli that I had used in a previous study (Losonczy-Marshall, 2007): a)
the mother playing peek-a-boo, b) a research assistant playing peek-a-boo,
c) the mother singing the eensy weensy spider song, d) a research assistant
singing the eensy weensy spider song, and e) a puppet show. The emotional
expressions of the children in response to these stimuli were video recorded.
Behavioral coding. Two independent raters behaviorally coded the video
recordings of emotional expressions using the Parameters of Emotional
Expression (Losonczy, 2001), which was designed to code facial, vocal, and
gestural modes of expression and yields an intensity score based on those
components. To incorporate facial modes of expression, I obtained permission
(personal communication through emails with C. E. Izard) to incorporate the
coding in the Maximally Discriminative Facial Movement Coding System
(MAX; Izard, 1983). I obtained vocalizations and bodily movements as modes
of emotional expression with permission (personal communication with H. H.
Goldsmith) from Lab-TAB.
To become proficient in coding movements in the face, undergraduate students
were first trained using MAX. The criterion for achieving proficiency in coding
was set at a minimum of 80% agreement with the MAX training material codes,
which typically took the students from 20 to 30 hours of practice.
Once they had achieved the required level of proficiency in MAX codes, each
student then received individual training in use of the Parameters of Emotional
Expression measure. The first step in coding was to identify whether or not an

STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

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emotional expression occurred in response to the stimulus. Once an emotional


expression on the face was identified, the time between the initial presentation
of the stimulus and the beginning of the emotional expression (latency time) was
calculated. The end of the emotional expression was identified and time between
the beginning and end of the emotional expression was calculated (duration time).
Intensity was measured during the peak of the emotional expression. Intensity
of emotional expression was composed of facial, vocal, and bodily/gestural
components. For the facial component, movements were identified and rated on
a 3-point scale, 1 point each for the brow, the eye-nose-cheek area, and the mouth
area. For vocal expression, the same time period was coded, from the peak to the
end of the peak. Vocalizations were coded in terms of their intensity from a soft
sound, like a whisper or cooing sound (1), to a normal volume of voice (2), to
a loud sound such as a squeal of joy (3). Gestural expression included a variety
of behaviors such as looking at the stimulus, pointing to the stimulus, or turning
away from the stimulus. The number of behaviors that were present at the same
time period between the peak and the end of the peak were counted. Typically
there were fewer than three behaviors present at the same time.
Interrater reliability. Interrater reliability between the two independent
raters for the intensity of emotional expression was assessed using intraclass
correlation. I compared the overall intensity score (including facial, vocal, and
gestural components) by each of the two raters for each of the children for each
stimulus. Intraclass correlation was .74.
Results
Latency, Intensity, and Duration of Emotional Expression

Average scores for latency, intensity, and duration of emotional expression for
each child were calculated for each of the 3 years and compared using Friedmans
(1937) two-way analysis of variance by ranks (see Table 1). As hypothesized,
results revealed stability in that there were no significant differences between
intensity of emotional expression from the age of 1 year through to 3 years
old. I hypothesized that there would not be absolute stability in the latency
of emotional expression from 1 year old to 3 years, but the results revealed
otherwise. According to the results there were significant differences in average
latency times from the age of 1 year through to 3 years old, yet Wilcoxon (1945)
signed rank tests revealed lack of stability between the ages of 1 and 2 and
stability from the age of 2 to age 3. I hypothesized that duration would not show
absolute stability, yet results revealed stability in that there were no significant
differences in duration of emotional expression from 1 to 3 years old.

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STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

Table 1. Emotional Expression and Stability


Friedmans test
Parameter
Latency
Intensity
Duration

2
19.97
1.78
0.78

Wilcoxon signed rank test


Age 1 year to 2 years
Age 2 years to 3 years

.01*
.41
.68

-3.10
-0.76
-0.07

p
.01*
.45
.95

Z
-0.18
-1.29
-0.28

p
.86
.20
.78

Note. N = 18; * p < .05; Friedmans test: k = 3; df = 2.

Dimensions of Temperament

I used the Carey Temperament Scales (Carey & McDevitt, 1995) to assess the
nine dimensions of temperament, as classified by Thomas and Chess (1977).
I compared scores for each of the nine dimensions using Friedmans (1937)
two-way analysis of variance by ranks. Results are displayed in Table 2. The
following five dimensions evidenced stability: activity, approach, adaptability,
intensity, and mood. The other four dimensions did not show stability of
rhythmicity, persistence, distractibility, and threshold, I used Wilcoxon signed
rank tests to analyze differences between years; results are displayed in Table
2. There were no significant differences in the childrens rhythmicity and
persistence between the ages of 1 and 2 years but they did show significant
differences between the ages of 2 and 3 years. Threshold showed a significant
difference between ages 1 year and 2 years as well as between 2 and 3 years.
According to the results there was a significant difference in distractibility using
Friedmans test, but the conservative Wilcoxon signed rank test yielded no
significant difference from 1 year to 3 years old.
Table 2. Dimensions of Temperament and Stability
Friedmans test

Activity
Rhythmicity
Approach
Adaptability
Intensity
Mood
Persistence
Distractibility
Threshold

Wilcoxon signed rank test


Age 1 year to 2 years
Age 2 years to 3 years

0.46
18.11
0.87
3.63
2.28
0.00
11.24
7.30
6.51

.80
.01*
.65
.16
.32
1.00
.01*
.03*
.04*

-0.10
-1.59
-0.64
-1.87
-1.35
-0.22
-1.42
-1.31
-3.00

.92
.11
.52
.06
.18
.83
.16
.19
.01*

-1.16
-2.72
-0.94
-0.74
-0.20
-0.33
-2.85
-0.94
-1.98

.25
.01*
.35
.46
.85
.74
.01*
.35
.05*

Note. N = 18; * p < .05; Friedmans test: k = 3; df = 2.

STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

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Correlation Between Intensity of Emotional Expression and Intensity Score


on Temperament Scale

Because of the small sample size, I used Spearmans rank correlation to assess
whether or not there was a correlation between the average intensity of emotional
expression and the intensity score on the temperament scale. Spearmans rho for
age 1 year, = .02 (p = .47), for age 2 years = .35 (p = .08), and for age 3 years
= .05 (p = .43). Correlations were weak for age 1 year and 3 years. However,
the correlation for age 2 years was moderate.
Discussion
My purpose in this study was to assess whether or not there is absolute
stability in the dynamic aspects of emotional expression (latency, intensity, and
duration) as measured in the laboratory and in the dimensions of temperament,
as measured by parental report, from ages 1 to 3 years. As hypothesized, results
indicated absolute stability (no significant changes) in the intensity of emotional
expression of the children who took part in the study from the age of 1 year to 2
years or from 2 years old to 3 years. This is consistent with findings in previous
research on the stability of the emotional expressions over time (Carranza
Carnicero et al., 2000; Goldsmith & Campos, 1990; Riese, 1987; Rothbart et
al., 2000; Sullivan et al., 1992; Wachs et al., 2004). My results also extend those
reported in my previous research (Losonczy-Marshall, 2007) to include absolute
stability in the intensity of emotional expression from the age of 1 year to 3 years
old.
Based on my previous research (Losonczy-Marshall, 2007), in which results
showed that average latency times were longer in early childhood than in infancy,
I hypothesized that the average latency time of emotional expressions was more
likely to change with age and, therefore, would not show absolute stability. This
hypothesis was partially supported; average latency times decreased significantly
between age 1 year and 2 years. This may indicate that, compared with
1-year-olds, 2-year-old children process information faster before responding
with an emotional expression. The difference in average latency times between
children aged 2 years and 3-year-olds was not statistically significant.
Further, based on my previous finding (Losonczy-Marshall, 2007) that average
duration times were longer in early childhood than during infancy, I hypothesized
that the average duration of emotional expression would change with age and,
therefore, would not show absolute stability. This was not supported by the data
obtained in the current study, as average duration of emotional expressions from
age 1 year to 2 years and from 2 years old to 3 years did not change significantly.
I had also hypothesized that temperamental dimensions would be stable; this
too was based on evidence of stability reported in previous research (Pedlow et

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STABILITY IN TEMPERAMENT AND EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

al., 1993; Van den Akker et al., 2010). My hypothesis was partially supported by
the data I obtained as dimensions of intensity, mood, approach, adaptability, and
activity showed absolute stability from age 1 year to 2 years and from 2 years
old to 3 years, whereas the dimensions of rhythmicity, threshold, persistence,
and distractibility did not show absolute stability as the children got older. It
should be noted that, among the group of children who took part in my study,
the two emotional dimensions of temperament (intensity and mood) both
showed absolute stability. This supports the idea that the emotional aspects of
temperament (trait emotion) are stable from the age of 1 year to 3 years, and this
is consistent with findings reported in other research on stability in temperament,
trait emotion (Casalin et al., 2012; Durbin et al., 2007; Neppl et al., 2010; Van
den Akker et al., 2010).
Based on Hudlickas (2002) integrated model, according to which trait
emotion (emotional dimensions of temperament) influences state emotion (an
emotional expression), I hypothesized that there would be a correlation between
the intensity dimension of temperament (measured using the temperament
questionnaire) and the average intensity of emotional expressions (measured in
the laboratory). I found a weak correlation between age 1 year and 3 years and a
moderate correlation at 2 years old. The weak correlation between 1 and 3 years
old may be indicative of the different measures used: that is, the parental report
of the intensity dimension of temperament and the average intensity of emotional
expressions in the laboratory. Perhaps the temperament measure of intensity is a
measure of accumulated perceptions of parents over time, including hundreds of
observations, whereas the average intensity of emotional expressions as measured
in the laboratory was a measure of only five social stimuli that elicited positive
emotions. However, I found it interesting that there was a moderate correlation
between the temperamental dimension of intensity and the average intensity of
emotional expressions in the laboratory at 2 years of age. Furthermore, both
the temperamental dimension of intensity, measured through temperament
questionnaires, and the average intensity of emotional expression as measured in
the laboratory showed stability from age 1 year through to 3 years.
Limitations in this study were the small sample and the bias toward
Caucasian middle-class families. Future researchers should allow for a broader
perspective with larger and more varied samples. Research on what influences
the latency to respond emotionally in 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds would lead
to a better understanding of how emotional responding develops in infancy
and early childhood. Additionally, further research to examine the relationship
between parental perceptions of the intensity of emotional expressions and
laboratory measures of the intensity of emotional expressions may be helpful in
understanding that relationship over time.

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