Literatus: Childhood temperament and adult behavior


HUMAN temperament can be very diverse. However, recent evidence indicates that childhood temperament can “predict” future adult behavioral profile, particularly beginning at age 25. Temperament is a biologically grounded way a person tends to respond to the world emotionally and then behaviorally.

A study conducted at the U.S. NIH National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that behavioral inhibition, or the tendency to withhold emotionally and behaviorally, tended to lead to social withdrawal and social anxiety in adulthood. The lead researchers are Dr. Daniel Pine of the NIHM and Dr. Nathan Fox of the University of Maryland. The report was published at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their methods involved the assessment of behavioral inhibition at the age of 14 months, then the use of electroencephalogram in measuring cognitive errors at age 15 on a computerized task. Follow up test at age 26 involved psychoanalysis to determine five psychosocial factors.

Their findings indicate that behavioral inhibition at age 14 months found a reserved personality at age 26, including fewer romantic relationships and lower social functioning in relationships with friends and family. It also predicted internalizing behaviors in adulthood. This behavior was also not associated with education and employment.

However, as with any mathematical (i.e. statistical) approach to measuring probability, this finding should not be treated as absolute. Many factors, such as culture, come into play in studies like this. For instance, the samples in this study are all Caucasians in middle and upper-middle classes in the United States.

Filipinos may have similar test results but different outcomes in social relationships, education and employment outcomes. I have seen behaviorally loud personalities in the past who have had trouble with their academic performance. Many silent types also did well in school. The rule of exceptions always haunts the scientific method to date.

The point is not to be threatened by studies like this. Instead, these studies can provide greater understanding of inner human realities, which help in managing internal realities and external responses.

In all these, each person has a role in God’s mysterious plan. Discernment plays a crucial role in fulfilling that role with or without behavioral inhibition during childhood. St. John of the Cross may be considered as behaviorally inhibited. Yet, he is one of our great mystics.


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