Perspectives on Personality Development

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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



Patterns of Attachment

Attachment Classification

Attachment Behavior

Secure attachment

Insecure-avoidant attachment

Insecure-resistant attachment

Insecure-dlsorganized-disoriented attachment

J Prefers closeness to caregiver In novel situations j Distressed by separation from caregiver

J Easily calmed upon return

J Prefers caregiver to strangers

Does not prefer closeness to caregiver in novel situations

Does not become distressed by separation from caregiver

Avoids contact upon return

Shows little or no preference for caregiver over stranger

Distressed in presence of caregiver In novel situations

Upset by separation Is not calmed by return Resists contact with strangers

Is confused and dazed In novel situations Bewildered during separations from caregiver Contradictory behaviors of seeking out (e.g., reaching out) and avoiding (e.g., look away) caregiver upon reunion

Attachment Outcomes

Attachment Classilication

Secure attachment

Insecure-avoidant attachment nsecure-resistant attachment

Attachment Outcome _Behavior_

Rated by peers as less anxious High in social competence Describe parents favorably Invested in relationships Prefer mutually satisfactory solutions to Interpersonal conflicts

Usually adopt parents view of God as warm and trustworthy

Viewed by peers as hostile, lonely, and having little family support

More likely to report parents with drinking problems

Express disinterest in intimacy

High breakup rates and less grieving following a breakup

Prefer to work alone Most likely to be agnostic

Rated by peers as most anxious of the three groups

High levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness

Most likely to describe parents as unfair and intrusive

Characterized as desperate for a romantic relationship

SOURCE: Brady Reynolds.

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

SOURCE: Brady Reynolds.

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 inse-cure-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 develop-mentalists 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-of-fit—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 dis-positionally 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 func tioning. 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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Brady Reynolds

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