About Temperament

Temperament is reflected in individual differences in self-regulation and reactivity in domains such as affect, attention, and activity. Furthermore, temperament is considered to be biologically based (i.e. constitutional) and influenced over time by experience (e.g., interactions with the family and broader environment), development, and heredity (Rothbart & Bates, 2006). Whereas self-regulation reflects processes, such as effortful control that modulate reactivity, reactivity encompasses responses to change in an individuals’ environment, including emotionally driven responses, such as fearfulness, anger, and positive affect (Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981). Although the term temperament is frequently invoked, temperament is a broad, over arching term that encompasses many specific temperament attributes. Rothbart and her colleagues have identified three higher-order temperament factors: positive emotionality, negative emotionality/affect, and effortful control (Ahadi & Rothbart, 1994; Gartstein & Rothbart, 2003). As alluded to above, effortful control, the ability to inhibit more automatic, dominant responses and activate an alternative, sub-dominant response, detect errors, and plan, constitutes the regulatory aspect of temperament (Rothbart & Bates, 2006; Rothbart & Sheese, 2007). Specific aspects of effortful control, which are believed to be mediated by the executive attention network (Rothbart, Posner, & Kieras, 2006), includes attentional control, attention shifting, and inhibitory control, among others (Rothbart, 2007; Simonds, Kieras, Rueda, & Rothbart, 2007; Wiersema & Roeyers, 2009). Although involved in emotion regulation, effortful control is also involved in other regulatory functions, such as the regulation of non-emotion laden behaviors. Positive emotionality is reflected by sub-scales of high intensity pleasure, smiling and laughter, and sociability and negative emotionality/negative affect is characterized by domains such as fear, anger, and sadness (Gartstein & Rothbart, 2003; Putnam, Rothbart, & Gartstein, 2008).

Infants begin displaying individual differences in temperament in the first weeks of life and dimensions of temperament can be reliably measured using laboratory tasks and parent-report measures by 3 to 4 months of age. Temperament also lends itself to a life-span perspective in so much as aspects of temperament that emerge in infancy (e.g., fearfulness) and early toddlerhood (e.g., effortful control) can be measured in older children, adolescents, and adults. In a related vein, although earlier conceptualizations of temperament emphasized stability across time (e.g., Mufson, Fendrich, Warner, 1990), there is increasing recognition that there is considerable change, growth, and/or development over time in broad and specific temperament constructs, and particularly early in life (i.e. infancy and early childhood). Furthermore, the application of advanced statistical modeling techniques, such as latent growth modeling, has increasingly revealed factors that account for individual differences over time in various temperament dimensions (e.g., Sallquist, Eisenberg, Spinrad, Reiser, Hofer, Zhou, et al., 2009). Likewise, research also demonstrates that individual differences in change over time in temperament constructs influence subsequent parenting practices that children may experience (e.g., Bridgett et al., 2009). 

In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on understanding the role of various aspects of temperament in models of psychopathology (see Special Section Bijttebier & Roeyers, 2009) and increasing interest in temperament within a developmental psychopathology framework. For example, research has implicated high negative affect and poor effortful regulation in the emergence of both internalizing and externalizing type difficulties (e.g., Auerbach et al., 2008; Clark & Watson, 1991; Verstraeten, Vasey, Raes, & Bijttebier, 2009). Given these and similar findings, it is important to consider factors that influence how temperament develops across time, cross time influences and interactions between different aspects of temperament, and how aspects of temperament may influence and shape the environment, such as the parenting that is experienced by children. Research efforts within the Emotion Regulation & Temperament Lab are directed towards answering these as well as closely related questions.  

Ahadi, S., & Rothbart, M. (1994). Temperament, development, and the Big Five. The developing structure of temperament and personality from infancy to adulthood (pp. 189-207). Hillsdale, NJ England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Auerbach, J., Berger, A., Atzaba-Poria, N., Arbelåe, S., Cypin, N., Friedman, A., et al. (2008). Temperament at 7, 12, and 25 months in children at familial risk for ADHD. Infant and Child Development, 17(4), 321-338. doi:10.1002/icd.579

Bijttebier, P., & Roeyers, H. (2009). Temperament and vulnerability to psychopathology: Introduction to the special section. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology: An official publication of the International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, 37(3), 305-308. doi:10.1007/s10802-009-9308-2

Bridgett, D., Gartstein, M., Putnam, S., McKay, T., Iddins, E., Robertson, C., . . . Rittmueller, A. (2009). Maternal and contextual influences and the effect of temperament development during infancy on parenting in toddlerhood. Infant Behavior & Development, 32(1), 103-116. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2008.10.007

Clark, L., & Watson, D. (1991). Tripartite model of anxiety and depression: Psychometric evidence and taxonomic implications. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100(3), 316-336. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.100.3.316

Gartstein, M., & Rothbart, M. (2003). Studying infant temperament via the revised infant behavior questionnaire. Infant Behavior & Development, 26(1), 64-86. doi:10.1016/S0163-6383(02)00169-8

Mufson, L., Fendrich, M., & Warner, V. (1990, May). The stability of temperament by child and mother reports over two years. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 29(3), 386-391. doi:10.1097/00004583-199005000-00009

Putnam, S., Rothbart, M., & Gartstein, M. (2008). Homotypic and heterotypic continuity of fine-grained temperament during infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood. Infant and Child Development, 17(4), 387-405. doi:10.1002/icd.582

Rothbart, M. (2007). Temperament, development, and personality. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(4), 207-212. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00505.x

Rothbart, M., & Bates, J. (2006). Temperament. In N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, & L. M. Richard (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3, Social, emotional, and personality development (6th ed.) (pp. 99-166). Hoboken, NJ US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Rothbart, M.K., & Derryberry, D. (1981). Development of individual differences in temperament. In M.E. Lamb & A.L. Brown (Eds.). Advances in developmental psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 37-86). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Rothbart, M. K., Posner, M. I., & Kieras, J.  (2006).  Temperament, attention, and the development of self-regulation. In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of early childhood development (pp. 338-357). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Rothbart, M., & Sheese, B. (2007). Temperament and emotion regulation. In J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 331-350). New York, NY US: Guilford Press.

Sallquist, J., Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T., Reiser, M., Hofer, C., Zhou, Q., . . . Eggum, N. (2009). Positive and negative emotionality: Trajectories across six years and relations with social competence. Emotion, 9(1), 15-28. doi:10.1037/a0013970

Simonds, J., Kieras, J., Rueda, M., & Rothbart, M. (2007). Effortful control, executive attention, and emotional regulation in 7-10-year-old children. Cognitive Development, 22(4), 474-488. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2007.08.009

Verstraeten, K., Vasey, M., Raes, F., & Bijttebier, P. (2009). Temperament and risk for depressive symptoms in adolescence: Mediation by rumination and moderation by effortful control. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology: An official publication of the International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, 37(3), 349-361. doi:10.1007/s10802-008-9293-x

Wiersema, J., & Roeyers, H. (2009). ERP correlates of effortful control in children with varying levels of ADHD symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology: An official publication of the International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, 37(3), 327-336. doi:10.1007/s10802-008-9288-7