The Developmental Model of Temperament Rothbart and Derryberry

The theory of temperament proposed in the beginning of 1980s by Rothbart and Derryberry (1981 ; Derryberry & Rothbart, 1984, 1988) can be described as a developmental (child-oriented), constitutional-psychobiological (causal), and multidimensional approach, with concentration on children's whole behavior. This theory, further developed by Rothbart and her associates (Rothbart, 1989a, 1989b, 1989c, 1991; Rothbart & Mauro, 1990; Rothbart & Posner, 1985), gained great popularity among child-oriented temperament researchers. The attractive aspect of this theory was chiefly in showing the developmental changes in temperament by reference to the interactional dynamics of behavioral and biological phenomena.

Theoretical Background

In describing their developmental model of temperament Mary Rothbart and Douglas Derryberry took advantage of many findings, concepts, and theories of temperament reported in the literature. The NYLS study, although critically viewed by the authors (Rothbart, 1989c; Rothbart & Derryberry, 198l), was profitable for their temperament research in that it has shown the richness of possible temperament categories present in infants. Diamond's ( 1957) understanding of temperament as a phenomenon present in man and animals, with individual characteristics rooted in physiological structures, was influential for Rothbart and Der-ryberry's constitutional approach to temperament.

In the authors' considerations about temperament one easily notes the influence of temperament theories in which such physiological constructs as excitation-inhibition, arousal, optimal level of arousal, and arousability, were applied to interpret the biological background of temperament (H. J. Eysenck, 1967; Gray, 1972; Nebylitsyn, 1972a; Pavlov, 1951-1952; Strelau, 1974; Zuckerman, 1979).

As the label suggests, the developmental model of temperament is firmly based on theories and findings taken from developmental psychology. Of special importance in the construction of Rothbart and Derryberry's theory were those conceptualizations and findings that showed the significance of individual differences in neonates and infants as well as reports on early evidence of infants' individuality (Brazelton, 1973; Escalona, 1968; Gesell & Ames, 1937).

The developmental model offers a highly original theory of temperament. At the same time, it is supplemented with information that makes it possible to search for links between Rothbart and Derryberry's theory and other conceptualizations of temperament, including studies on adults.

Temperament as Constitutionally Based Individual Differences in Reactivity and Self-Regulation

Rothbart and Derryberry (1981, p. 37; Derryberry & Rothbart, 1984, p. 132), defined temperament as constitutional differences in reactivity and self-regulation. Constitutional refers to the individual's relatively enduring biological makeup influenced over time by heredity, maturation, and experience. Reactivity refers to arousability of the physiological and behavioral systems, which include somatic, autonomic, neuroendocrine, and cognitive reactivity (Rothbart, 1989b, 1991). It is reflected in the response parameters of threshold, latency, intensity, rise, and recovery time. By self-regulation Rothbart and Derryberry meant processes that modulate (facilitate or inhibit) reactivity. These processes include attention, ap proach, withdrawal, attack, behavioral inhibition, and self-soothing). Although developed independently, the "constructs of reactivity and self-regulation are very similar to Strelau's" (Rothbart, 1989a, p. 59).

There is a continuous interaction between reactivity and self-regulation, with a developmentally determined increase in the influence of self-regulation on the modulation of reactivity (Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994). With growth, self-regulation becomes more and more under conscious (effortful) control. Effort, identified with the concept of will, is regarded by Rothbart (Rothbart & Posner, 1985) as "the ability to inhibit responses to stimuli in the immediate environment while pursuing a cognitively represented goal" (Rothbart, 1989c, p. 208). The framework of the developmental model of temperament is depicted in Figure 3. l.

As can be seen from this model, reactivity is considered not only as a tendency to react in terms of intensity and speed (arousability), but also as a process or state determined by such factors as stimulus intensity, its meaning (signal qualities), internal state, and novelty. Under low or moderate stimulation individuals experience positive reactions (feelings of pleasure), described in Figure 3.1 as positive reactivity. Under strong stimulation negative reactions, experienced as feelings of distress (in Figure 3.1, negative reactivity), are dominant. Depending on

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FIGURE 3.1. A framework for temperament. Note. From "Temperament: A Development Framework," by M. K. Rothbart. In J. Strelau and A. Angleitner (Eds.), Explorations in Temperament: International Perspectives on Theory and Measurement (1991, p. 7), New York: Plenum Press. Copyright 1991 by Plenum Press. Reprinted with permission.

FIGURE 3.1. A framework for temperament. Note. From "Temperament: A Development Framework," by M. K. Rothbart. In J. Strelau and A. Angleitner (Eds.), Explorations in Temperament: International Perspectives on Theory and Measurement (1991, p. 7), New York: Plenum Press. Copyright 1991 by Plenum Press. Reprinted with permission.

their level of temperament reactivity, individuals differ in experiencing negative or positive reactivity to stimuli of the same intensity.

Individuals are then posited to differ in their thresholds for and intensity of positive and negative reactions, and the rise and recovery time of these reactions, so that the effect of a stimulus will be stronger for some [high-reactive] individuals than for others [low-reactive individuals]. (Rothbart, 1989b, p. 64)

Temperamental differences refer also to the ease with which self-regulatory processes (reactions) are initiated. By means of self-regulatory processes, the list of which is shown in Figure 3.1, the individual is able to modulate reactivity (e.g., negative reactivity may be reduced by lowering the stimulative value of the situation), approach or avoid stimuli, orient attention toward or away from given situations or activities, and so on. With age, self-regulatory processes become more and more cognitive and conscious.

Temperamental traits are expressed in such behaviors as attentional, emotional, and motor activity; however, these behaviors have a developmentally specific organization (Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994). For example, if we take into account emotional activity, in the neonatal period only negative emotionality (susceptibility to distress) occurs. In early infancy, positive emotionality, expressed in smiling and vocalization, can be observed as well. Rothbart and Derryberry (1981; Derryberry & Rothbart, 1984, 1989c; Rothbart & Posner, 1985; Rothbart, Derryberry, & Posner, 1994) have described in more detail than anyone else the devel-opmentally specific structure of temperament starting from their temperament framework. Table 3.3 gives a general view of the ontogenetic changes in temperament from the neonatal period until the school years.

The continuing development of effortful control indicated in Table 3.3 consists of qualitative differences in the mechanisms involved in the control of the individual's behavior. Whereas in infants the effortful control consists mainly in orienting attention toward or away from objects or persons (Rothbart, Posner, & Rosicky,

TABLE 3.3. Temperament in Development During Early Childhood

Developmental period

Temperament components


Distress and soothability, activity, orienting and alertness (atten

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