Born That Way

Welcome back all my special readers and wishing you all a prosperous 2024.

For my first blog I wish to discuss the article “Born That Way” by Gina Mireault, a professor and chair of psychology and human services at Northern Vermont University.  The article discusses the concept of infant temperament and its long-term impact on child development. It delves into the research of psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, who in 1956 started the New York Longitudinal Study to investigate infants’ innate dispositions and their effect on long-term development. The study recruited 133 infants from white middle-class families and collected data on them in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood for 32 years.

Temperament is defined as individual differences in emotional, bodily and attentional reactions to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, etc, as well as in the self-regulation of emotion, behaviour and attention. Thomas and Chess identified nine dimensions of temperament: activity level, regularity, approach, adaptability, intensity, sensory threshold, mood, distractibility and persistence. Using these dimensions, they distinguished three broad temperamental types: easy (40% of the population), difficult (10%), and slow-to-warm-up  (15%.

‘Easy’ infants were generally in a positive mood, adapted well to new situations and routines, and were quickly soothed when upset.

‘Difficult’ children, due to their generally negative and intense reactions to minor events, took a long time to calm down and lacked predictable eating, sleeping and digestive rhythms.

‘Slow-to-warm up’ were uneasy and apprehensive in new situations but with time and support would have the ability to adapt.

Thomas and Chess had demonstrated that that babies are not born ‘blank slates’ who passively receive and are moulded by the environment.  Hundreds of follow-on studies have subsequently and unequivocally demonstrated that temperament is biologically based and a driving factor in child development that is at least as important as everything that comes after a baby enters the world, including parenting.

I totally agree with this conclusion but if as I read the article I became more and more bemused by the complexity of the follow-on studies.

You have to give credit to Aaron Rosanoff, who first proposed in 1924 a model of temperament that was based on the idea that the distinction between normal and abnormal psychological conditions was artificial, suggesting that these conditions exist on a continuum rather than as binary states.  His model had five factors; Humm and Wadsworth using factor analysis increased it to seven in the 1930s, while the 7MTF redefined the metal illnesses developing a model of temperament using the following seven mental illnesses: neuroticism, psychopathy mania, depression, autism, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder.  In my humble opinion it is the most practical, trait-based and scientifically model of temperament available.

For more information watch this 4-minute video introduction to the 7MTF.  If that whets you appetite sign up to my Introduction to the 7MTF online-video course that takes only 5 hours to complete and an investment of only A$25.

This blog was first posted on LinkedIn on 15 January 2024.


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