Nav: Home

Infant temperament predicts personality more than 20 years later

April 20, 2020

Researchers investigating how temperament shapes adult life-course outcomes have found that behavioral inhibition in infancy predicts a reserved, introverted personality at age 26. For those individuals who show sensitivity to making errors in adolescence, the findings indicated a higher risk for internalizing disorders (such as anxiety and depression) in adulthood. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides robust evidence of the impact of infant temperament on adult outcomes.

"While many studies link early childhood behavior to risk for psychopathology, the findings in our study are unique," said Daniel Pine, M.D., a study author and chief of the NIMH Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience. "This is because our study assessed temperament very early in life, linking it with outcomes occurring more than 20 years later through individual differences in neural processes."

Temperament refers to biologically based individual differences in the way people emotionally and behaviorally respond to the world. During infancy, temperament serves as the foundation of later personality. One specific type of temperament, called behavioral inhibition (BI), is characterized by cautious, fearful, and avoidant behavior toward unfamiliar people, objects, and situations. BI has been found to be relatively stable across toddlerhood and childhood, and children with BI have been found to be at greater risk for developing social withdrawal and anxiety disorders than children without BI.

Although these findings hint at the long-term outcomes of inhibited childhood temperament, only two studies to date have followed inhibited children from early childhood to adulthood. The current study, conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and the National Institute of Mental Health, recruited their participant sample at 4 months of age and characterized them for BI at 14 months (almost two years earlier than the previously published longitudinal studies). In addition, unlike the two previously published studies, the researchers included a neurophysiological measure to try to identify individual differences in risk for later psychopathology.

The researchers assessed the infants for BI at 14 months of age. At age 15, these participants returned to the lab to provide neurophysiological data. These neurophysiological measures were used to assess error-related negativity (ERN), which is a negative dip in the electrical signal recorded from the brain that occurs following incorrect responses on computerized tasks. Error-related negativity reflects the degree to which people are sensitive to errors. A larger error-related negativity signal has been associated with internalizing conditions such as anxiety, and a smaller error-related negativity has been associated with externalizing conditions such as impulsivity and substance use. The participants returned at age 26 for assessments of psychopathology, personality, social functioning, and education and employment outcomes.

"It is amazing that we have been able to keep in touch with this group of people over so many years. First their parents, and now they, continue to be interested and involved in the work," said study author Nathan Fox, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology.

The researchers found that BI at 14 months of age predicted, at age 26, a more reserved personality, fewer romantic relationships in the past 10 years, and lower social functioning with friends and family. BI at 14 months also predicted higher levels of internalizing psychopathology in adulthood, but only for those who also displayed larger error-related negativity signals at age 15. BI was not associated with externalizing general psychopathology or with education and employment outcomes.

This study highlights the enduring nature of early temperament on adult outcomes and suggests that neurophysiological markers such as error-related negativity may help identify individuals most at risk for developing internalizing psychopathology in adulthood.

"We have studied the biology of behavioral inhibition over time and it is clear that it has a profound effect influencing developmental outcome," concluded Dr. Fox.

Although this study replicates and extends past research in this area, future work with larger and more diverse samples are needed to understand the generalizability of these findings.
-end-
Reference:

Tang, A., Crawford, H., Morales, S., Degnan, K. A., Pine, D. S., & Fox, N. A. (2020). Infant behavioral inhibition predicts personality and social outcomes three decades later. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NIH/National Institute of Mental Health

Related Mental Health Articles:

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.
Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.
Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.
Heat takes its toll on mental health
Hot days increase the probability that an average adult in the US will report bad mental health, according to a study published March 25, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Mengyao Li of the University of Georgia, and colleagues.
Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.
The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Skills training opens 'DOORS' to digital mental health for patients with serious mental illness
Digital technologies, especially smartphone apps, have great promise for increasing access to care for patients with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia.
The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: Mental health problems persist in adolescents five years after bariatric surgery despite substantial weight loss
Five years after weight-loss surgery, despite small improvements in self-esteem and moderate improvements in binge eating, adolescents did not see improvements in their overall mental health, compared to peers who received conventional obesity treatment, according to a study in Sweden with 161 participants aged 13-18 years published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.
More Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Nina
Producer Tracie Hunte stumbled into a duet between Nina Simone and the sounds of protest outside her apartment. Then she discovered a performance by Nina on April 7, 1968 - three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tracie talks about what Nina's music, born during another time when our country was facing questions that seemed to have no answer, meant then and why it still resonates today.  Listen to Nina's brother, Samuel Waymon, talk about that April 7th concert here.