What is Temperament? - Definitions, Meaning & Types

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  • 0:02 What Is Temperament?
  • 0:59 Types of Temperament
  • 1:44 Heredity or Environment?
  • 2:35 Importance of…
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrea McKay

Andrea teaches high school AP Psychology and Online Economics and has a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Were you a fussy baby or an easy-going infant? In this lesson, you will learn about different temperament types seen in babies and why it is important to understand temperament.

What Is Temperament?

If you have children or have spent time around children, you likely already have some understanding of temperament. Temperament is observable in infants from birth. Ask any parent and they will tell you if their child was an easy-going or difficult baby. Maybe the baby was often fussy and inconsolable. Some parents might even tell you that their child was so challenging as an infant, they decided against having more children later. Other parents will happily report their child was an easy baby who handled new situations with great flexibility. In either example, the parents are thinking of their child's temperament.

Temperament is an individual's characteristic level of emotional excitability or intensity and is typically recognized within the first few weeks after birth. It is often assumed to be an early indication of personality, though personality combines temperament with experiences to shape life-long traits.

Types of Temperament

For the majority of infants, their temperament falls into one of three broad categories:

  1. Difficult babies are often irritable and fussy. They are upset easily and may be unpredictable when it comes to feeding schedules.
  2. Easy babies are calm and relaxed. They do follow predictable feeding schedules but are also flexible within their day. They are often seen as friendly and happy.
  3. Slow-to-warm-up babies do not like new situations. They are cautious and sometimes fussy, but they do warm up to new stimuli or situations with repeated exposure.

While many infants strictly display one dominant type of the three temperaments, some infants show a combination of the three types depending on the situation.

Heredity or Environment?

As with many psychological phenomena, the nature-nurture debate arises in any discussion of temperament. Are we born with a specific temperament, or does our environment play a role? Given that characteristics of temperament are displayed very early in life, many psychologists agree that heredity plays an important part in creating temperament.

Identical twins, sharing the same genetic makeup, are more likely to have similar temperaments and personalities. While personalities mature over the life span as people encounter and learn from new experiences, differences in temperaments remain relatively stable. In other words, calm and relaxed babies are usually seen as being calm and relaxed adults. Irritable babies often display irritability as an adult. Slow-to-warm-up infants often become shy adults who may be perceived as distant until you get to know them well.

The Importance of Understanding Temperament

How parents and caregivers react to their child's temperament can affect the child and their overall well-being. Each type requires a parent who understands their temperament and can adjust to their demands in ways that create positive interactions for the child.

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