Relationship between infant temperament and attachment

Psychologists have argued for several years over the concepts’ of nature v nurture, and which is seen more crucial in determining or causing such individual differences in personality as well as behavior. The majority of modern psychological researchers’ currently believe that both biological and environmental factors interconnect to form a child’s personality. Further, it is also indicated researchers are convinced that temperament is existent at the birth of infants as some personality characteristics are portrayed. However, attachment theory is associated with the infants’ view of bonding and the consequences this may have in the future for self-concept, in addition to an increasing view of the social world.

The interest in the study of infant temperament has increased gradually during recent years. This is due to early individual differences which have been increasingly related to later personality and social development. Temperament is defined as constitutionally based individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation, with constitutional referring to the relatively enduring biological make-up of the individual, influenced by heredity, maturation, and experience (Gartstein & Rothbart, 2003). It is identified that infants are born with their own unique style of interaction through temperament, which as a result establishes response to people and the surrounding environment.

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Research by Zantner and Bates (2008) indicate the nine temperament traits. It is believed that health professionals use a sequence of interviews and observations that measure the nine temperament traits using a range indicating slight to intense responses or reactions. They are determined to be; activity levels, rhythmicity (regularity), approach/withdrawal, adaptability, sensory threshold, intensity of reaction, quality of mood, distractibility, and attention span/persistence. Each term refers to the establishment of behavior. Further, these traits combine to form three basic types of temperaments. It is assumed that approximately 65 percent of all children fit one of three patterns. Forty percent of children are generally regarded as ‘easy or flexible’, 10 percent are regarded as ‘difficult, active or feisty’, and the final 15 percent are regarded as ‘slow to warm up or cautious’. The other 35 percent of children are a combination of these patterns (Oliver, 2002)

As a result of these patterns, parents can adjust their approach in areas of expectations, encouragement, and discipline to suit the child’s unique needs. Alternatively understanding temperament can assist any parent to comprehend the child’s behavior, rather than trying to change innate traits.

Bokhorst et al. (2003) argue that genes are considered active in nature, and convert over time in the quantity and quality of their effects. It is also determined that genes can change and develop over time. Further, it is suggested that environmental factors can be held accountable for the change in genetic traits. Parenting is considered influential, in highlight of this, infants’ desire affection and compassion. Infants require responsive parents who are adjusted to their specific unique needs. In saying so, if infants are born with a temperament that ultimately displays no risk for ‘precarious’ behavior, it will be determined that neglectful/careless parents whom build an insecure connection may be regarded as responsible for that infants bad behavior development. In general, high-quality parenting is made apparent from the behavior of a child. Infants need encouragement, guidance and love as well as being accepted as unique, in order to prosper into a socially stable adult. Nevertheless, temperament is a set of innate traits, which construct an infants approach indefinitely. They are described as instrumental in the development of a distinct personality. These traits determine learning strategies about the world, as well as also appearing to be relatively stable from birth, forming individual enduring characteristics.

Newman, B. M. & Newman, P. R. (1975). Develpoment through life: A psychosocial approach. Homewood, ILL: Dorsey Press.

Sigelman, C. K. & Rider, E. A. (2003). Life-span human development. Belmont, CA: Thomson.

The attachment process is not gender specific as infants will form attachments to any consistent caregiver who is sensitive and responsive in social interactions with the infant. The quality of the social engagement appears to be more influential than amount of time spent

Attachment theory provides a framework for understanding emotional reactions in infants by linking infant and caregiver in a paired set of complementary control systems. Attachment is an instinctual need to connect with other human beings. If the theories about temperament discussed in this paper are true, attachment may function as a regulator between infant temperament and outside environmental influences.

Attachment is a property of the dyadic relationship between infant and caregiver, which means that attachment security is not a reflection of the caregivers parenting skills or whether the child has an easygoing temperament. Attachment is a reflection of the goodness of fit between the parent’s temperament and the infant’s temperament. For example, a cautious infant who takes time to warm up to people could pose a challenge to caregivers who need immediate feedback in order to feel successful in their interaction with their baby (6).

If it is possible that good parenting can change a child’s basic temperament by helping them to regulate their emotion and behavioral urges in a positive way we need to work on educating parents about temperament and attachment. Maybe with more education parents can learn to help children who are exhibiting signs of a disordered temperament.

Infants differ in temperamental characteristics. Previous studies suggest that temperament contributes to shaping quality of infant attachment. However, most studies have focused on concurrent associations between temperament and attachment in infancy. Little is known about whether and how infant temperamental characteristics are linked to later attachment security. Furthermore, research indicates that early temperament is crucial for understanding early behavioral adjustment, including both social competence and behavior problems. Previous studies suggest that behavior problems are moderately stable over time and related to child temperament in early childhood. However, we know relatively little about how temperamental characteristics in infancy contribute to behavioral adjustment in toddlerhood. Thus, this study investigated four research questions: (1) whether temperamental characteristics in infants are linked to attachment security later in toddlerhood, (2) whether infant temperament is linked to behavioral adjustment in toddlerhood, (3) whether child temperament is concurrently associated with attachment security in toddlerhood, and (4) whether child temperament is concurrently associated with behavioral adjustment in toddlerhood.

Seventy first-born infants and their mothers participated in a larger longitudinal study at 12 and 30 months. At 12 months, mothers filled out the Infant Behavior Questionnaire to assess infant temperamental characteristics such as distress to limitation, distress to novelty, and smiling and laughter (Rothbart, 1981). At 30 months, mothers and toddlers engaged in social interactions designed to mimic daily parent-child encounters in a playroom for more than 2 hours. The quality of mother-toddler attachment relationship was assessed using the Attachment Q-Set, sorted by trained observers (Walters, & Deane, 1985). Mothers filled out the Early Childhood Behavior Questionnaire to assess toddler temperament such as inhibitory control, attentional shifting, cuddliness, and frustration (Putnam, Ellis & Rothbart, 2001). Furthermore, toddlers’ behavioral adjustment was assessed by mothers using the Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment (Brggs-Gowan & Carter, 1998) to evaluate positive socioemotional competence and internalizing and externalizing behavior problems.

Results from cross-time correlations indicated that infants’ temperamental distress to limitations was negatively associated with their attachment security and socioemotional competence, and positively linked to internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. In addition, infant temperamental distress to novelty was positively linked to internalizing behavior problems. Data from concurrent correlations suggested that temperamental dimensions assessed in toddlerhood such as attentional shifting, cuddliness, and inhibitory control were positively linked to attachment security. Furthermore, whereas the temperamental dimension of frustration was negatively related to positive socioemotional competence, it was positively related to internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. By contrast, the dimensions of inhibitory control and attentional shifting were positively related to positive socioemotional competence, they were negatively related to internalizing and externalizing behavior problems.

Taken together, infant temperamental distress appears to be the precursor to the attachment security and behavioral adjustment in toddlerhood. Temperament assessed in toddlerhood also shows systematic relations with attachment security and behavioral adjustment. Findings from this study suggest that temperament plays a significant role in the development of intra-personal and inter-personal functioning in toddlerhood.

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