Personality psychology is considered the study of individual differences in behavior—how individuals behave differently from one another in various situations. Developmental personality psychologists are interested in understanding the ways individuals develop their unique patterns of responding to the environment based on genetic endowments and social histories. Also of interest is identifying the ways in which personality changes or is stable across development, as well as identifying early behavioral precursors that are predictive of later individual differences. From these multiple interests have come a number of perspectives on personality development relevant to the age period spanning infancy through adolescence (birth to twenty years of age).
Perspectives on Personality Development
Behavioral individuality in newborns is defined as temperament. A number of competing models of temperament have been proposed, but most generally view temperament as a construct that represents the early emerging, constitutionally based, behavioral individuality that is consistent over both time and situations. Conceptually, psychologists have differentiated infant temperament from childhood and adolescent personality by noting that temperament represents the more biologically based basic emotions, while personality represents the consistent behavioral repertoire developed by an individual out of her interactions with the social environment.
The course of personality development from temperamental beginnings has been described by some as a transition from temperament to personality or as an elaboration from basic dimensions of temperament to more complex dimensions of personality. By late childhood and adolescence, this behavioral transition or elaboration is apparent as behavior has become more purposefully directed and increasingly incorporates concepts like self-understanding.
A number of theories have been developed that outline different interactional processes of personality development, but most of the theories can be grouped into two categories: those that emphasize certain developmental environments in shaping an individual's personality and those that emphasize the individual's biology. A theoretical orientation that emphasizes either the environment or biology generally does not completely discount the position of the other, but rather stresses one factor over the other with respect to relative importance.
Many personality theorists and researchers emphasize the importance to early personality development of the quality of attachment between infant and primary caregiver. Attachment is considered the enduring emotional tie that an infant forms with his caregiver, which helps to ensure a relationship style between caregiver and infant that fosters infant survival. Several models characterize the developmental progression of attachment formation. These models emphasize the universal, biologically based process of attachment as it unfolds across infancy and childhood.
Significant individual differences are not thought to occur in the actual process of attachment formation itself, but individual differences do occur in the quality or style of attachment. See Table 1 for a listing of the commonly agreed upon infant and childhood attachment patterns and their characteristic behaviors. These patterns of behavior have been identified through a laboratory procedure called the Strange Situation, which was developed by Mary Ainsworth and her colleagues. The Strange Situation is a standardized procedure that places the infant or young child in increasingly stressful separation-reunion situations with the caregiver.
Many contributing factors lead to differences in attachment style, but the developmental factor typically viewed as most important to attachment outcomes is caregiver responsiveness to infant needs. For example, a caregiver facilitates a secure attachment by consistently meeting the infant's needs. Infant needs may be satisfied by behaviors such as responding to crying, feeding when hungry, physical contact, and comforting during times of stress. If the infant's needs are met consistently, a secure attachment is most likely formed through the infant learning to expect the caregiver's responsiveness and dependability.
If an infant's needs are not met consistently, then one of the insecure attachment patterns is more likely to develop. These insecure attachment patterns may lead to later peer and romantic relational problems in adolescence and early adulthood. Table 2 shows some adolescent and early-adulthood characteristics that researchers have found to be related to different earlier attachment patterns. Table 2 includes only the first three attachment styles listed in Table 1. Since the 1990s, researchers have identified the fourth attachment style, insecure-disorganized-disoriented, and have not studied the outcomes that might be associated with it.
Some research has revealed a relation between infant temperament and attachment style. Infants classified as temperamentally difficult—characterized by irritability, adverse reactions to changes in routine, and unpredictable endogenous rhythms, like wake/sleep cycles, are more likely to form one of the insecure attachment styles. This relation between temperament and attachment suggests that temperament can influence the process of attachment. For instance, a temperamentally difficult infant is in many ways more difficult and less satisfying to care for than a more easygoing infant. The increased burden of caring for a difficult infant makes it less likely that the infant's needs will be met as consistently as those of the more temperamentally easygoing infant. These relationship differences between caregivers and temperamentally different infants stand to shape different attachment patterns.
Becoming increasingly popular in assessing the relative contributing factors in early personality development is the concept of goodness-of-fit between the developing infant or child and his or her environment. In the example above of the temperamentally difficult infant being more likely to form an insecure attachment, if the particular caregiver is not negatively affected by the difficult behaviors of the infant, then an insecure attachment is less likely to occur because of the good fit between the caregiver and infant. The goodness-of-fit between an infant or child and her environment is as important in determining developmental outcomes as different developmental factors (e.g., parental responsiveness, temperament) considered separately.
Another important environmental influence for personality development is peer friendships. Research suggests that between 6 percent and 11 percent of school-age children have no friends, and there is clear evidence that these children are at increased risk for later social and emotional maladjustment. A lack of successful childhood friendships is also related to academic difficulties and dropping out of high school. The broad scope of childhood friendships as potentially a positive or negative developmental influence for personality is understandable in light of the amount of time children and adolescents spend with peers in both school and social settings.
Friendships take on greater importance as children grow older, with friendships accounting for an increasing amount of the child's time and experience. For young children, friendships serve to increase excitement during play and allow opportunities for the child to regulate his excitement. Maintaining friendships in middle childhood (generally considered to be between the ages of six and twelve) requires children to learn about behavioral norms and relate to others. And in adolescents, friendships are particularly important as the typical adolescent begins to rely on friendships for social support and as a resource for self-exploration. In adolescents, friendships provide an important opportunity for social referencing, which allows the adolescent to try on different social roles and ideals that are essential to the development of a sense of self.
Related to adolescent friendships and personality development is an aspect of personality known as self-concept. Some personality theorists and researchers contend that the developing and changing view a person holds of herself is an important aspect of individual differences and is often neglected under the temperament or trait conceptions of personality. From this perspective, a person's self-concept (which incorporates such features as the individual's history, sense of competency, and goals for the future) is an important behavioral determinant that is more dynamic, malleable, and encompassing than temperament or personality traits.
A critical component in the development of one's self-concept is referencing, including temporal referencing, a self-comparison from an earlier time to a later time, and social referencing, a comparison of one's self to others. Temporal and social referencing yield the type of self-examination that serves to increase the stability of individual differences through an individual making behavioral and/or environmental changes to maintain a self-concept. The particular style of referencing most commonly adopted changes across the lifespan. Temporal referencing is most common in childhood and in old age when relatively rapid physical and cognitive changes are most apparent. Conversely, social referencing is most common in adolescence and adulthood when individual change is less appreciable.
For adolescents, it is their emphasis on social referencing that makes having successful friendships especially important in the development of self-concept. Having successful friendships in adolescence leads to more interactive and positive comparisons between self and others. Without successful friendships, an adolescent is more isolated and is more likely to make negative comparisons. These negative comparisons during adolescence set a developmental trajectory toward low self-esteem and further social withdrawal in adulthood, making it difficult for such individuals to learn the social skills necessary to meet social support needs.
In regard to why some children and adolescents have more trouble making friends than others, evidence suggests that in some instances early individual differences in attachment and temperament predict later friendship problems or successes. For example, research has shown that children classified as insecure-avoidant are more likely than securely attached children to exhibit aggression, anger, and hostility in peer-group settings. Also, insecure-ambivalent children in such settings are more likely to exhibit social inhibition and a low threshold for frustration. These patterns of social behavior are predictive of peer rejection and lack of friendship. Similarly, research in infant and childhood temperament has revealed a predictive relation between friendship success and both overall emotionality and the ability of an infant or child to self-regulate emotional expression. Infants and children who are the most temperamentally emotional and the least capable of regulating their expression of emotion are on average less successful in developing and maintaining friendships.
In summary, research suggests that some early individual differences in attachment and temperament may lead to behavioral styles that ultimately undermine an individual's ability to successfully make and maintain friendships. The long-term effects of these individual differences could be harmful for the individual. With greater understanding and awareness of the elements and dynamics involved, however, interventions may be developed that help deflect the individual's development to more successful and healthy outcomes.
A Biological Perspective on Personality Development
From a more biological perspective, personality development is thought to be primarily governed by the biological maturation of the individual. Even environmental influences on development are viewed as largely under the influence of biologically based dispositions and characteristics. Personality developmentalists holding a strong biological orientation argue that environmental factors do not play a significant role in the development of individual differences, except in the case of extreme environmental deficiencies. An example of such a deficiency is the lack of early caregiver responsiveness described above, which is often found with the insecure attachment styles.
Biologically oriented personality theorists argue that specific environments cannot be required for species-typical developments such as individual differences. Rather, environments are viewed as providing, or not providing, opportunities for biological development to take place. All that is required for adaptive, functional development is a range of adequate environments.
As described above, early biologically based individual differences are often characterized as differences in temperament. Considerable evidence based on heritability research shows that individual differences in temperament have strong genetic foundations. These genetic foundations lead to individual differences in physiology, which in turn may influence environmental conditions in ways that channel environmental experiences to fit temperamental qualities. Put another way, biological determinants of personality development in some ways influence and shape the environmental conditions that influence development.
An infant's or child's biological characteristics bias his environmental experiences in a number of ways. First, as described earlier, there is goodness-offit—biologically based characteristics of an infant or child influence his fit with the environment, which indirectly shapes the quality of environmental experiences. Second, aspects of an individual's behavior stemming from his biology may consistently evoke certain types of behavior in others. For instance, a dispositionally timid or shy child may be ignored more in social contexts than an extroverted child who often initiates social exchange. Third, biologically based dispositions may lead to certain environmental preferences as an infant or child grows to increasingly select preferred environments. For example, an individual with a particularly high activity level may be drawn more to sports or other physical activities while someone less active may prefer comparatively sedentary activities. Finally, biologically based dispositions also may influence the way an individual experiences environmental conditions. For example, research has revealed very early individual differences in reactivity to novel or highly stimulating environments arising from differences in brain functioning. For highly reactive infants, novel or stimulating environments are aversive, and these infants are likely to withdraw from such environments because they are easily overstimulated. Given the same environment, however, less reactive infants are likely to be curious and want to explore.
All of these biologically based differences, which in some ways shape an individual's environmental experiences, lead to unique environmental influences on personality development that match the individual's biology. Thus, from a biological perspective, an individual's unique biology stands to influence the environment and therefore bias how the environment influences personality development.
A logical next question regarding biological influences on personality development concerns the structure of personality. With personality development having a biological component, there should be a degree of universality in overall personality structure. Research suggests that indeed there may be such a universal structure of personality.
The Developing Structure of Personality
In the field of personality psychology, there appears to be an emerging consensus that the structure of late-adolescent and adult personality can be comprehensively described by five broad factors, which are known as the "Big Five." These five factors are typically characterized as: Extroversion/Surgency, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism/Emotional Stability, and Openness to Experience/Intellect. Using language-based instruments cross-culturally, the Big Five has been successfully identified in American English, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Such findings support the idea that the Big Five is a universally applicable taxonomy of late-adolescent and adult personality.
In similar studies of infant and childhood individual difference dimensions, usually using parental or teacher ratings of temperament, five to seven dimensions are normally identified. Five of the dimensions are particularly robust and have been labeled Activity Level, Negative Emotionality, Task Persistence, Adaptability/Agreeableness, and Inhibition. The two other dimensions are less certain and have been labeled Rhythmicity and Threshold. Developmentally, the process of change from these earlier infant and childhood dimensions to the Big Five dimensions of late adolescence and adulthood appears to involve multiple early dimensions being subsumed under single Big Five dimensions. In other words, during the course of development, the organizational structure of individual difference dimensions changes, with each of the Big Five dimensions being comprised of features from more than one of the earlier dimensions.
Figure 1 shows hypothesized relations between five of the individual difference dimensions of infancy and childhood and the different dimensions of the Big Five. The general relations outlined in Figure 1 are based on empirical evidence; more detailed research is required, however, before more specific conclusions can be drawn about the role of these early individual difference dimensions in the development of the Big Five. In Figure 1, the lines connecting specific dimensions of infancy and childhood to specific dimensions of the Big Five represent correlations between the earlier and later dimensions. The solid lines represent positive correlations, while the dashed lines represent negative correlations.
Apparent from Figure 1 should be the lack of one-to-one correspondence between early and later individual difference dimensions. Evidence suggests that this dimensional reorganization is more biologically determined than environmentally determined; meaning, as described earlier, that specific environmental conditions are not required for this reorganization to occur. Exactly how and when this dimensional reorganization takes place, however, is not understood. Future research will examine more closely the age-related changes that take place in the organization of individual difference dimensions.
Individual differences in personality are universal in that they are found in all human populations. The roots of individual differences are no doubt bedded in evolutionary history, selected because of their improved adaptiveness to conditions in the environment. The specific personality qualities of an individual, which lead to individual differences between people, are not based so much in evolution, however, but are the product of many developmental factors.
The developmental study of individual differences in personality provides a rich source of data for the researcher and practitioner alike to use in understanding and predicting behavior. Without the study of individual differences, there could be no detailed analysis or explanation of why people often behave or develop very differently under seemingly equivalent environmental conditions. Understanding these differences and the development of these differences is fundamental not only to psychologists' understanding of behavior but also to parents, schoolteachers, social workers, policymakers, and anyone else working with other people. Because of its universality and its implications for understanding behavior, the study of individual differences is an essential part of any complete scientific study of behavior.
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Personality development is the development of the organized pattern of behaviors and attitudes that makes a person distinctive. Personality development occurs by the ongoing interaction of temperament , character, and environment.
Personality is what makes a person a unique person, and it is recognizable soon after birth. A child's personality has several components: temperament, environment, and character. Temperament is the set of genetically determined traits that determine the child's approach to the world and how the child learns about the world. There are no genes that specify personality traits, but some genes do control the development of the nervous system, which in turn controls behavior.
A second component of personality comes from adaptive patterns related to a child's specific environment. Most psychologists agree that these two factors—temperament and environment—influence the development of a person's personality the most. Temperament, with its dependence on genetic factors, is sometimes referred to as "nature," while the environmental factors are called "nurture."
While there is still controversy as to which factor ranks higher in affecting personality development, all experts agree that high-quality parenting plays a critical role in the development of a child's personality. When parents understand how their child responds to certain situations, they can anticipate issues that might be problematic for their child. They can prepare the child for the situation or in some cases they may avoid a potentially difficult situation altogether. Parents who know how to adapt their parenting approach to the particular temperament of their child can best provide guidance and ensure the successful development of their child's personality.
Finally, the third component of personality is character—the set of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral patterns learned from experience that determines how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. A person's character continues to evolve throughout life, although much depends on inborn traits and early experiences. Character is also dependent on a person's moral development .
In 1956, psychiatrist Erik Erikson provided an insightful description as to how personality develops based on his extensive experience in psychotherapy with children and adolescents from low, upper, and middle-class backgrounds. According to Erikson, the socialization process of an individual consists of eight phases, each one accompanied by a "psychosocial crisis" that must be solved if the person is to manage the next and subsequent phases satisfactorily. The stages significantly influence personality development, with five of them occurring during infancy, childhood, and adolescence .
During the first two years of life, an infant goes through the first stage: Learning Basic Trust or Mistrust (Hope). Well-nurtured and loved, the infant develops trust and security and a basic optimism. Badly handled, the infant becomes insecure and learns "basic mistrust."
The second stage occurs during early childhood, between about 18 months to two years and three to four years of age. It deals with Learning Autonomy or Shame (Will). Well-parented, the child emerges from this stage with self-confidence, elated with his or her newly found control. The early part of this stage can also include stormy tantrums , stubbornness, and negativism, depending on the child's temperament.
The third stage occurs during the "play age," or the later preschool years from about three to entry into formal school. The developing child goes through Learning Initiative or Guilt (Purpose). The child learns to use imagination; to broaden skills through active play and fantasy; to cooperate with others; and to lead as well as to follow. If unsuccessful, the child becomes fearful, is unable to join groups, and harbors guilty feelings. The child depends excessively on adults and is restricted both in the development of play skills and in imagination.
The fourth stage, Learning Industry or Inferiority (Competence), occurs during school age, up to and possibly including junior high school. The child learns to master more formal skills:
- relating with peers according to rules
- progressing from free play to play that is structured by rules and requires teamwork (team sports)
- learning basic intellectual skills (reading, arithmetic)
At this stage, the need for self-discipline increases every year. The child who, because of his or her successful passage through earlier stages, is trusting, autonomous, and full of initiative, will quickly learn to be industrious. However, the mistrusting child will doubt the future and will feel inferior.
The fifth stage, Learning Identity or Identity Diffusion (Fidelity), occurs during adolescence from age 13 or 14. Maturity starts developing during this time; the young person acquires self-certainty as opposed to self-doubt and experiments with different constructive roles rather than adopting a negative identity, such as delinquency. The well-adjusted adolescent actually looks forward to achievement, and, in later adolescence, clear sexual identity is established. The adolescent seeks leadership (someone to inspire him or her), and gradually develops a set of ideals to live by.
The Child Development Institute (CDI) rightfully points out that very little knowledge is available on the type of specific environment that will result, for example, in traits of trust being more developed in a person's personality. Helping the child through the various stages of emotional and personality development is a complex and difficult task. Searching for the best ways of accomplishing this task accounts for most of the research carried out in the field of child development today.
Renowned psychologist Carl Rogers emphasized how childhood experiences affect personality development. Many psychologists believe that there are certain critical periods in personality development—periods when the child will be more sensitive to certain environmental factors. Most experts believe that a child's experiences in the family are important for his or her personality development, although not exactly as described by Erikson's stages, but in good agreement with the importance of how a child's needs should to be met in the family environment. For example, children who are toilet trained too early or have their toilet training carried out too strictly may become rebellious. Another example is shown by children who learn appropriate behavior to their sex lives when there is a good relationship with their same-sex parent.
Another environmental factor of importance is culture. Researchers comparing cultural groups for specific personality types have found some important differences. For example, Northern European countries and the United States have individualistic cultures that put more emphasis on individual needs and accomplishments. In contrast, Asian, African, Central American, and South American countries are characterized more by community-centered cultures that focus on belonging to a larger group, such as a family, or nation. In these cultures, cooperation is considered a more important value than competitiveness, which will necessarily affect personality development.
Infants who are just a few weeks old display differences between each other in how active they are, how responsive they are to change, and how irritable they are. Some infants cry constantly while others seem happy and stay fairly quiet. Child development research conducted by the CDI has identified nine temperamental traits that may contribute to a child's personality development being challenging or difficult:
- activity level (how active the child is generally)
- distractibility (degree of concentration and paying attention when the child is not particularly interested)
- intensity (how loud the child is)
- regularity (the predictability of biological functions like appetite and sleep)
- sensory threshold (how sensitive the child is to physical stimuli: touch, taste, smell, sound, light)
- approach/withdrawal (characteristic responses of a child to a new situation or to strangers)
- adaptability (how easily the child adapts to transitions and changes such as switching to a new activity)
- persistence (stubbornness, inability to give up)
- mood (tendency to react to the world primarily in a positive or negative way)
Temperamental traits are enduring personality characteristics that are neither "good" nor "bad." Early on, parents can work with the child's temperamental traits rather than oppose them. Later, as the child grows up, parents can help the child to adapt to his or her own world in spite of inborn temperament.
Most children experience healthy personality development. However, some parents worry as to whether their infant, child, or teenager has a personality disorder. Parents are usually the first to recognize that their child has a problem with emotions or behaviors that may point to a personality disorder.
Children with personality disorders have great difficulty dealing with other people. They tend to be inflexible, rigid, and unable to respond to the changes and normal stresses of life and find it very difficult to participate in social activities. When these characteristics are present in a child to an extreme, when they are persistent and when they interfere with healthy development, a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed physician or mental health professional is recommended.
When to call the doctor
Parents who suspect that their child has a personality disorder should seek professional help. It is a very important first step in knowing for sure whether there is a disorder, and if so, what treatment can best help the child. Child and adolescent psychiatrists are trained to help parents sort out whether their child's personality development is normal.
Behavior —A stereotyped motor response to an internal or external stimulus.
Character —An individual's set of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral patterns learned and accumulated over time.
Cognition —The act or process of knowing or perceiving.
Cognitive —The ability (or lack of) to think, learn, and memorize.
Gene —A building block of inheritance, which contains the instructions for the production of a particular protein, and is made up of a molecular sequence found on a section of DNA. Each gene is found on a precise location on a chromosome.
Identity —The condition of being the same with, or possessing, a character that is well described, asserted, or defined.
Maturity —A state of full development or completed growth.
Personality —The organized pattern of behaviors and attitudes that makes a human being distinctive. Personality is formed by the ongoing interaction of temperament, character, and environment.
Socialization —The process by which new members of a social group are integrated in the group.
Temperament —A person's natural disposition or inborn combination of mental and emotional traits.
See also Bonding; Cognitive development; Temperament.
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Monique Laberge, Ph.D.
The development of the beliefs, moods, and behaviors that differentiate among people.
The concept of personality refers to the profile of stable beliefs, moods, and behaviors that differentiate among children (and adults) who live in a particular society. The profiles that differentiate children across cultures of different historical times will not be the same because the most adaptive profiles vary with the values of the society and the historical era. An essay on personality development written 300 years ago by a New England Puritan would have listed piety as a major psychological trait but that would not be regarded as an important personality trait in contemporary America.
Contemporary theorists emphasize personality traits having to do with individualism, internalized conscience , sociability with strangers, the ability to control strong emotion and impulse, and personal achievement.
An important reason for the immaturity of our understanding of personality development is the heavy reliance on questionnaires that are filled out by parents of children or the responses of older children to questionnaires. Because there is less use of behavioral observations of children, our theories of personality development are not strong.
There are five different hypotheses regarding the early origins of personality (see accompanying table). One assumes that the child's inherited biology, usually called a temperamental bias, is an important basis for the child's later personality. Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess suggested there were nine temperamental dimensions along with three synthetic types they called the difficult child, the easy child, and the child who is slow to warm up to unfamiliarity. Longitudinal studies of children suggest that a shy and fearful style of reacting to challenge and novelty predicts, to a modest degree, an adult personality that is passive to challenge and introverted in mood .
A second hypothesis regarding personality development comes from Sigmund Freud's suggestion that variation in the sexual and aggressive aims of the id , which is biological in nature, combined with family experience, leads to the development of the ego and superego . Freud suggested that differences in parental socialization produced variation in anxiety which, in turn, leads to different personalities.
A third set of hypotheses emphasizes direct social experiences with parents. After World War II, Americans and Europeans held the more benevolent idealistic conception of the child that described growth as motivated by affectionate ties to others rather than by the narcissism and hostility implied by Freud's writings. John Bowlby contributed to this new emphasis on the infant's relationships with parents in his books on attachment . Bowlby argued that the nature of the infant's relationship to the caretakers and especially the mother created a profile of emotional reactions toward adults that might last indefinitely.
A fourth source of ideas for personality centers on whether or not it is necessary to posit a self that monitors, integrates, and initiates reaction. This idea traces itself to the Judeo-Christian assumption that it is necessary to award children a will so that they could be held responsible for their actions. A second basis is the discovery that children who had the same objective experiences develop different personality profiles because they construct different conceptions about themselves and others from the same experiences. The notion that each child imposes a personal interpretation to their experiences makes the concept of self critical to the child's personality.
An advantage of awarding importance to a concept of self and personality development is that the process of identification with parents and others gains in significance. All children wish to possess the qualities that their culture regards as good. Some of these qualities are the product of identification with each parent.
A final source of hypotheses regarding the origins of personality comes from inferences based on direct observations of a child's behavior. This strategy, which relies on induction, focuses on different characteristics at different ages. Infants differ in irritability, three-year-olds differ in shyness , and six-year-olds differ in seriousness of mood. A major problem with this approach is that each class of behavior can have different historical antecedents. Children who prefer to play alone rather than with others do so for a variety of reasons. Some might be temperamentally shy and are uneasy with other children while others might prefer solitary activity.
The current categories of child psychopathology influenced the behaviors that are chosen by scientists for study. Fearfulness and conduct disorder predominate in clinical referrals to psychiatrists and psychologists. A cluster of behaviors that includes avoidance of unfamiliar events and places, fear of dangerous animals, shyness with strangers, sensitivity to punishment , and extreme guilt is called the internalizing profile. The cluster that includes disobedience toward parent and teachers, aggression to peers, excessive dominance of other children, and impulsive decisions is called the externalizing profile. These children are most likely to be at risk for later juvenile delinquency . The association between inability of a three-year-old to inhibit socially inappropriate behavior and later antisocial behavior is the most reliable predictive relation between a characteristic scene in the young child and later personality trait.
Influences on personality development
The influence comes from a variety of temperament but especially ease of arousal, irritability, fearfulness, sociability, and activity level. The experiential contributions to personality include early attachment relations, parental socialization, identification with parents, class, and ethnic groups, experiences with other children, ordinal position in the family, physical attractiveness, and school success or failure, along with a number of unpredictable experiences like divorce , early parental death, mental illness in the family, and supporting relationships with relatives or teachers.
The most important personality profiles in a particular culture stem from the challenges to which the children of that culture must accommodate. Most children must deal with three classes of external challenges: (1) unfamiliarity, especially unfamiliar people, tasks, and situations; (2) request by legitimate authority or conformity to and acceptance of their standards, and (3) domination by or attack by other children. In addition, all children must learn to control two important families of emotions: anxiety, fear, and guilt, on the one hand, and on the other, anger , jealousy , and resentment.
Of the four important influences on personality— identification, ordinal position, social class, and parental socialization—identification is the most important. By six years of age, children assume that some of the characteristics of their parents belong to them and they experience vicariously the emotion that is appropriate to the parent's experience. A six-year-old girl identified with her mother will experience pride should mother win a prize or be praised by a friend. However, she will experience shame or anxiety if her mother is criticized or is rejected by friends. The process of identification has great relevance to personalty development.
The child's ordinal position in the family has its most important influence on receptivity to accepting or rejecting the requests and ideas of legitimate authority. First-born children in most families are most willing than later-borns to conform to the requests of authority. They are more strongly motivated to achieve in school, more conscientious, and less aggressive.
The child's social class affects the preparation and motivation for academic achievement. Children from middle-class families typically obtain higher grades in school than children of working or lower-class families because different value systems and practices are promoted by families from varied social class backgrounds.
The patterns of socialization used by parents also influence the child's personality. Baumrind suggests that parents could be classified as authoritative, authoritarian, or permissive. More competent and mature preschool children usually have authoritative parents who were nurturant but made maturity demands. Moderately self-reliant children who were a bit withdrawn have authoritarian parents who more often relied on coercive discipline. The least mature children have overly permissive parents who are nurturant but lack discipline.
Jerome Kagan Ph.D.
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