6. Attachment & Temperament - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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6. Attachment & Temperament

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Born That Way- Termperament Rel

Born that Way, Temperamental Challenges in Relationships and Therapy
by Ronald Mah

Since social needs are affected by ones temperament, it would not be surprising to find that the primary social need of attachment between the infant and the caregiver is also affected.  In turn, a child's attachment experiences with subsequent attachment people: peers and eventually, romantic partners would also be affected.  Using the lens of temperament to examine attachment challenges or vice versa, the lens of attachment to examine temperament offers theoretical cross-validation.  The interactive processes abound when looking at development.  While it may become repetitious, the nuance from multiple perspectives can offer additional valuable insight.  "Because of the widely recognized importance of peer relations for young children, a critical focus of early childhood research has been to document intra- and interpersonal determinants of children's abilities to assemble social skills in the peer group.  Attachment security (relational) and child temperament (endogenous) are two constructs of particular interest because, in principle and in practice, both constructs are relevant to elements of the emotional/affective components of relationship development.  In addition, both attachment and temperament theories posit connections between their content domains and personality/social dimensions (Bates & McFadyen- Ketchum, 2000; Bowlby, 1988)" (Szewczyk-Sokolowski and Bost, 2005, page 380).

Temperament is relevant to the development of individual's emotion regulation.  A temperamental trait of high negative emotionality will contribute significantly to an individual's tendency to readily react negatively to provocations with great intensity deemed quite out of proportion as judged by others' reactions.  It would be beneficial to identify both biological and psychological causes, including different triggering thresholds for emotional responses, varying intensity of response, and differences in how long an emotional response lasts (Lahey, 2004, page 92).  Parent and child relationships and child adjustment is influenced by individual differences in the child's characteristics.  "In research with young children, child temperament has been considered a central factor in the development of children's personality, emotionality/affect, and social behavior (Rothbart, Ahadi & Evans, 2000).  Most temperament theories have been proposed as explanations of individual differences in reactivity, styles of action, and self-regulation that have their source in biological substrates rather than life experiences (Calkins, Fox & Marshall, 1996; Campos, Campos & Barrett, 1989; Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981; Rothbart, Derryberry & Hershey, 2000).  These endogenously organized traits (Bates & McFayden-Ketchum, 2000; Rothbart & Bates, 1998) are thought to appear early in life and to show moderate ordering consistency for samples of individuals across time (DeFries, Plomin & Fulker, 1994; Goldsmith & Alansky, 1987; Rothbart et al., 2000).  Conceptually, temperament is thought to consist of core personality traits that have a pervasive effect on the quality and frequency of social exchanges and interpersonal relations (DeFries et al., 1994).  Indeed, temperament has been described as a bridge between children's home environments and their social worlds (Hinde & Tobin, 1986)" (Szewczyk-Sokolowski and Bost, 2005, page 380).

Temperament is a bridge between a child and parents and other children.  As information and behavior crosses from one to another, however, individual temperament qualifies the transit.  From either side, the communication or action is intensified or muted, sent with little to substantial collateral substance, varied repetition or persistence, and so on by the sender's temperament.  The recipient's temperament further filters and alters the experience of the communication or action.  His or her temperament proceeds to affect the substance and quality of the responding communication, which is subject once more to the temperament of the now recipient.  Samuel, Aliya, and Charlie manifest these dynamics exponentially in a never-ending cycle that damage their relationships.  Each member of the family repeatedly adds to or distorts communication as sender and recipient unless the therapist can intervene in the process.  Szewczyk-Sokolowski and Bost (2005) reviewed studies that looked at temperament and attachment.  One study found that secure attachment and externalizing temperament related to whether preschoolers, especially boys associated with positive behaving or negative behaving playgroups.  Another study found that secure attachment in infancy moderated latency age children's resistance related to temperament to adult control.  It also affected how adults perceived children externalizing problems.  A longitudinal study of adopted children found early temperament and attachment to be significant predictors of later social and cognitive development (page 382).  

Since attachment develops out of the interaction between child and adult in response to the child's distress, differences in child temperament would affect the quality and intensity of the distress and how the child would try to regulate it.  The individual temperament differences would affect the child's response to separation and affect how the parent would respond.  A child with difficult temperament who presents challenging behavior to the parent, subsequently may have poorer attachment security.  "…children who were rated by their mothers as more difficult (i.e., more irritable, easily upset, non-compliant) received lower… security scores than did children who were rated as less difficult… There was a trend toward significance for the correlation between security and Negative Adaptation to Change: mothers of children with lower attachment security scores tended to rate their children as more likely to react negatively to change (i.e., being less adaptable, more negative in mood, more serious) than did mothers of children with higher security scores" (Szewczyk-Sokolowski and Bost, 2005, page 388).  The findings about children would appear relevant to personalities and functioning as adults.  The quality and frequency of social exchanges and interpersonal relations between partners in a couple are significantly affected by each of their mutual histories of attachment security, which may be highly related to temperament.  Within an intimate relationship, challenges of attachment styles and temperament may be intricately interwoven.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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