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.
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