ED209 revision: temperament and development

Whilst early cognitive development seemed like a fairly well structured chapter, temperament and development seems all over the place at first glance and really only seems to get going in the second half which doesn’t suit my (relatively) organised mind.

There’s a long history of looking at temperament dating back to ancient Greece which started looking at types of personality (Theophrasus and Hippocrates) but these days things are generally looked at in terms of character traits. That said, Thomas and Chess do suggest some mappings of combinations of traits onto particular personality types ie the two approaches aren’t entirely separate. The three main trait theories are Eysenck’s, the Big-5 and Cattell’s 16PF in increasing level of complexity. Overall the issue here is looking at “what makes people develop in similar ways?” vs “what makes people different from each other?”. Since we’re looking at developmental psychology in this course, there’s the additional problem that the above systems rely on self-completed questionnaires which obviously won’t work too well on a 2 year old. Related to that clearly many of the traits aren’t applicable to infants. However, Bates identified three broad categories that are applicable to pre-schoolers: emotional responses, attentional orientation patterns and motor activity.

Moving on (in the usual confused way of this chapter) there’s the issue of how one actually defines temperament. Do you look at abstract tendencies, or visible behaviours? What about a genetic basis? Stability is clearly important and the Colorado Adoption Project showed how stable temperament is. And, of course, temperament needs to run across all settings.

Finally, we’re on to what seems to be the meat of the chapter: measuring temperament. The four major theories are Thomas and Chess (nine-dimensional framework), Buss & Polmin’s EAS [Emotionality, Activity and Sociality], Kagan’s categorical approach and Dunn & Kendrick’s embedding of temperament in social relationship (ie reactions depend on the situation). Problems with these include the difficulty of identifying truly separate traits eg the Thomas & Chess “attention span” and “distractibility” dimensions don’t seem entirely independent.

What influences does temperament have on development? There’s the direct one (eg in school situations), the direct effect on the parents, indirect via “goodness of fit” (eg between child and parents), indirect via susceptibility to psychological adversity, indirect on range of experiences (eg a shy child will tend to avoid social situations) and, as always, the effect on attachment.

Overall, this chapter seems all over the place. Good for a waffly answer but I don’t think that it would be my first choice in the exam.

Next up is first relationships. And a drop more on the seen question I think.

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