Infant temperament predicts personality in adulthood, NIH study suggests

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WASHINGTON — Insights from a new study suggest that behavior and temperament displayed during infancy can serve as a predictor for adult personality more than 20 years later.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and funded by the National Institutes of Health, noted that “behavioral inhibition in infancy predicts a reserved, introverted personality at age 26,” according to a news release from the National Institutes of Health.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “temperament includes behavioral traits such as sociability (outgoing or shy), emotionality (easy-going or quick to react), activity level (high or low energy), attention level (focused or easily distracted), and persistence (determined or easily discouraged).”

“These examples represent a spectrum of common characteristics, each of which may be advantageous in certain circumstances. Temperament remains fairly consistent, particularly throughout adulthood,” the National Library of Medicine noted.

The study focused on one specific type of temperament called behavioral inhibition (BI), a trait that if children have, they could be at greater risk of developing social withdrawal and anxiety disorders. The release noted that BI is fairly stable across toddlerhood and childhood and “is characterized by cautious, fearful, and avoidant behavior toward unfamiliar people, objects, and situations.”

In the study, researchers assessed 14-month-olds for BI. When those participants turned 15 years old, they provided neurophysiological data. The participants then returned at age 26 to be assessed for “psychopathology, personality, social functioning, and education and employment outcomes,” the release noted.

The study found that at age 26, participants who had BI at 14 months were more reserved, had lower social functioning with friends and family, and fewer romantic relationships over the past decade.

“Children with BI have been found to be at greater risk for developing social withdrawal and anxiety disorders than children without BI,“ according to the release.

An abstract of the study is available for review at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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