Temperament as a Factor in Early School Adjustment






Full text



as a Factor

in Early



William B. Carey, M.D., Marian Fox, M.A., and Sean C. McDevitt, Ph.D.

From the Department of Pediatrics, University ofPennsylvania Medical School at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Widener College, Chester, Pennsylvania; and Terry Children’s Psychiatric Center, New Castle, Delaware

ABSTRACT. Infant temperament profiles of “difficult,” “intermediate,” and “easy” in a randomly selected group of 51 children were shown to correlate with impulsivity and school adjustment at ages 5#{189}to 7 years. However, the

nonlinear relationship makes this a finding of uncertain

significance. On the other hand, contemporaneous tempera-ment determinations using the Behavioral Style Question-naire completed by the children’s mothers showed a signifi-cant correlation between .the adaptability subscale and

teacher judgments of school adjustment. This latter finding adds support to the view that temperament is a significant factor in school adjustment and that it can be measured by a clinical instrument appropriate for pediatric use. Pediatrics



School adjustment and academic achievement

are presently attributed to a variety of factors

including intellectual abilities, past experiences,

and neurological and emotional status. Until

lately relatively little attention has been paid to

the child’s temperament, or behavioral style, as a

significant element in his progress in school.’

Gordon and Thomas2 demonstrated that the

qual-ities of adaptability and approach in children

affect their teachers’ judgments of their

intelli-gence. A study by Chess and associates’ gave

convincing evidence that the characteristics of

nonadaptability and withdrawal correlated

signif-icantly with lower academic achievement scores

regardless of ratings on intelligence tests.

if it could be shown that temperament

deter-mination techniques available to pediatricians

were sufficiently sensitive to detect the factors

that influence school adjustment and academic

achievement, then pediatricians might be in a

position to make an additional contribution to the

process of evaluating school adjustment. It is not

clear, however, which is the best technique to

employ. The interview of the New York

Longitu-dinal Study (NYLS)4 has been successful in

research settings in establishing the relationship

between temperament and behavior problems’6

and academic achievement,3 but it is too long and

cumbersome for practical pediatric applications.

The infant temperament questionnaire,7’8 a

simplification of that interview technique, has

yielded behavior profiles that correlate

signifi-cantly with a variety of phenomena in infancy,

such as lacerations9 and night waking,’#{176} but has

not yet been used for long-term follow-up studies

at school age. The Behavioral Style Questionnaire

(BSQ), a newly completed practical technique

for determination of temperament in 3- to 7-year

old children, is now available for more current

assessments of temperament characteristics of

children as they begin school.

The purposes of the longitudinal study

reported here were (1) to evaluate the degree to

which pediatric temperament determinations in

infancy are predictive of behavior in early school

years and (2) to investigate the relationship

between early childhood temperament and school

adjustment and problem-solving. Since infant

measures have generally predicted behavior in

early childhood poorly,’2 one would expect

stronger correlations between contemporaneous

early childhood determinations and school


Received June 24; revision accepted for publication September 13, 1976.

Supported by the Memorial and Endowment Fund for

Children of the American Academy of Pediatrics.



Practically all infants in the generally white,

middle-class private practice of one of us

(W.B.C.) have been tested with the infant

temperament questionnaire78 since 1968. This

70-item questionnaire, completed by the infants’

mothers at about 6 months, yields ratings in the

nine categories of temperament: activity,

rhyth-micity, adaptability, approach, sensory threshold,

intensity, mood, distractibility, and persistence.

Ratings in five of the categories are used to divide

all babies into four groups. Easy babies are

regular, adaptable, approaching, mild, and

posi-live. Difficult babies are irregular, low in

adapt-ability and approach, intense, and negative.

Inter-mediate low (easy) and high (difficult) fall in

between. The reliability and validity of this

instrument have been discussed 91

The earliest babies tested and still active in the

practice were classified into the four diagnostic

subgroups. Fifteen children were randomly

selected from each of these subgroups, resulting

in an initial sample of 60. Fifty-one of the 60

families consented to participate in the study,

making a final group membership of 14 difficult,

10 intermediate high, 15 intermediate low, and 12

easy. There were 35 boys and 16 girls, the

inequality being a reflection of the chance

preponderance of males in this segment of the

main study population. Boys predominated

simi-larly in each of the four subgroups, 10 of 14, 6 of

10, 11 of 15, and 8 of 12, respectively.

At the time of reevaluation, the children

ranged in age from 5#{189}to 7 years and were all

attending kindergarten or first grade. The

assess-ment of their behavioral status at this time was

based on two kinds of data: (1) a series of

standardized psychological tests and (2) a

ques-tionnaire sent to their teachers.

On the Matching Familiar Figures Test

(MFFT)” the child’s task is to match a stimulus

picture with one of four slightly differing test

pictures, only one of which is the same as the

original. (The preschool form was used.) Response

time and errors are measured in each of the 12

items. Response time is considered by Kagan to be

a measure of reflectivity or impulsivity.

One of us (M.F.) administered this test and

three others (results to be reported elsewhere) to

each of the 51 children without prior knowledge

of their temperament ratings.

The Bommarito Socialization Scale’4 consists of

45 brief descriptions of behavior, 41 of which are

negative, such as “dawdles to avoid a difficult

task” or “quarrels with other children

excessive-ly.” The child’s school adjustment score was

computed as 45 minus the number of negative

items checked. The scale was mailed with an

explanatory letter, a parental permission slip, and

a return envelope to each of the teachers by way

of the principal’s office. Teachers were asked to

check items that definitely described the child.

After a number of exhortatory telephone calls

ratings were received for all 51 children in the


At about the same time, each parent was

mailed a copy of the BSQ.’#{176}This is a

tempera-ment questionnaire with 100 items appropriate to

3- to 7-year-old children. Each item is rated by

the parent on a six-point frequency scale. Like the

infant temperament questionnaire, it is based on

the conceptualization of the NYLS4 and yields

nine category scores and similar diagnostic

clus-ters of difficult, slow to warm up, intermediate,

and easy. This instrument has a test-retest

relia-bility of 0.89 and an alpha reliability of 0.84.

Completed forms were obtained for 50 of the 51



Infant Temperament

On the MFFT, the mean response time for each

infant temperament group was as follows:

diffi-cult, 4.19 seconds; intermediate high, 4.14

seconds; intermediate low, 5.66 seconds; and easy,

4.98 seconds. The data were analyzed using a

one-way analysis of variance. A significant difference

was found among these four means (F = 3.31;

df = 3,47; P < .05). Post hoc comparisons using

the Newman Keuls test demonstrated that

chit-dren rated as difficult or intermediate high were

significantly more impulsive than those rated

intermediate low, although not more than those

rated easy. There was no significant difference in

group means for accuracy of responses.

On school adjustment scores, the group means

were as follows: difficult, 41.86; intermediate

high, 43.50; intermediate low, 42.30; and easy,

38.08. There was a significant difference among

the four group means (F = 4.22; df = 3,47;

P < .01). Children rated as easy in infancy were

significantly more poorly adjusted compared with

other groups. Next came the difficult ones, and

the intermediate had the best adjustment scores.

There were no significant sex differences in either

of these dependent measures. The adaptability

and approach subscale scores did not correlate

with school adjustment ratings.

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Early Childhood Temperament

Using the current temperament data from the

BSQ, the 50 children were reclassified into new

temperament clusters. Correlations were run

between these new category scores and clusters

and the MFFT and teacher ratings. Of the nine

temperament category scores only adaptability

correlated with school adjustment (r = .35;

P < .01). Errors in the MFFT were signfficantly

correlated with nonadaptability (r = .31;

P < .05) and nonpersistence (r = .29; P < .05), as

determined by the BSQ. The mean school

adjust-ment for each new group was as follows: difficult

(n = 10), 39.40; slow to warm up (n = 7), 40.29;

intermediate (n = 17), 41.64; and easy (n = 16),

42.69. Although the easy children did better,

these differences were not significant

(F = 1.77).

DISCUSSION Infant Temperament

The correlations between infant temperament

data and behavioral findings at 5#{189}to 7 years of

age are inconclusive and of uncertain clinical

importance. The reflectivity-impulsivity

dimen-sion has been shown to be influential in a variety

of learning situations,” but the relationship of

impulsivity to more difficult temperament found

here is not a linear one and there was no

difference among the group means as to


Similarly, the relationship between infant

temperament and school adjustment is nonlinear

and of uncertain significance.

The explanation for this unexpected result may

lie in the fact that some children have shifted in

their temperament cluster diagnoses between

infancy and age 5#{189}to 7 years, some becoming

more and some less difficult. Of the six children

who had been easy infants but had the poorest

school adjustment scores in their group, none was

still rated easy by the BSQ.

Researchers in the temperament field have

generally agreed that, although the child’s

behav-ioral style may be important at any given time,

these characteristics are not fixed.5 They interact

with the environment and the two modify each

other. The NYLS has shown the greatest stability

for activity and adaptability.’5 A recently

completed study’6 is generally in agreement,

adding intensity and threshold to the list. The

stability of temperament cluster diagnosis in 187

subjects is also investigated there. This sample of

50 is too small for any conclusions on that issue.

When the later behavioral variables studied are

not in the same dimension as the earlier ones, as

with our comparison of the psychological tests

and teacher judgments with infant temperament

ratings, one expects a lower order of correlations

and possibly confusing results.’2

Early Childhood Temperament

The importance of this study lies in the fact

that when one compares current temperament

determinations with problem-solving and early

school adjustment, one finds some significant and

expected relationships. That the less adaptable

child, as rated by the mother, has more trouble in

problem-solving tasks (MFFT) is in agreement

with the prior findings of Chess and associates3

that lower adaptability is related to lesser

scho-lastic achievement. Also, the finding that

adapt-ability is correlated with school adjustment

suggests that this characteristic is a significant

determinant of general classroom behavior.

While previous research3 has shown

correla-tions between scholastic achievement and the

temperamental characteristic of

approach/with-drawal, this variable was not correlated with

MFFT errors. However, that BSQ nonpersistence

was correlated with MFFT errors appeals to

common sense, since the task requires enough

attention to make correct comparisons of a visual

stimulus with several possible matches.

This study depends in considerable measure

upon the accuracy of the pupil evaluations done

by the teachers. Over 40 different teachers rated

the 51 children, and each teacher had her own

idea as to what the questions meant. However,

Chamberlin concludes in his review of teacher

checklists that they are “valid and reliable

indica-tors of a child’s current school functioning.”7 Any

study attempting to replicate the findings

reported here would do well to select an

instru-ment providing a greater range of adjustment

scores. Less skewing of the adjustment scores

might allow the linear relationship between the

current difficulty of temperament and school

adjustment problems to become statistically



While the infant temperament questionnaire

has some value to pediatricians in infancy, it

would be hazardous to use it as a predictor of

school adjustment. The BSQ, on the other hand,

provides current information about the

tempera-ment of the child beginning school. Perhaps it or



techniques now used by schools and pediatricians

to evaluate children in that period.’8

Tempera-ment data should also be helpful in further

research attempting to understand children’s

educational progress.

A sample copy of the BSQ scoring sheet and profile sheet may be obtained by writing to Dr. Carey at 319 West Front Street, Media, PA 19063. Please enclose a check for $5 to cover costs.


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the teacher’s appraisal of their intelligence. J Sch Psychol 5:292, 1967.

3. Chess 5, Thomas A, Cameron M: Temperament: Its significance for early schooling. NY University Educ Q, spring 1976, p 24.

4. Thomas A, Chess 5, Birch HG, et al: Behavioral Individ-uality in Early Childhood. New York, New York University Press, 1963.

5. Thomas A, Chess 5, Birch HG: Temperament and Behavior Disorders in Children. New York, New York University Press, 1968.

6. Graham P, Rutter M, George S: Temperament charac-teristics as predictors of behavior disorders in chil-dren. Am J Orthopsychiatry 43:328, 1973. 7. Carey WB: A simplified method for measuring infant

temperament. J Pediatr 77:188, 1970.

8. Carey WB: Measuring infant temperament. J Pediatr

81:414, 1972.

9. Carey WB: Clinical applications of infant temperament measurements. J Pediatr 81:823, 1972.

10. Carey WB: Night waking and temperament in infancy. J

Pediatr 84:756, 1974.

11. McDevitt SC, Carey WB: The measurement of temperament in 3 to 7 year old children. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, to be published.

12. Bell RQ, Weller GM, Waldrop MF: Newborn and pre-schooler: Organization of behavior and relations between periods. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev

36:129, 1971.

13. Kagan J: Developmental studies in reflection analysis, in


Kidd A, Rivoire JL (eds): Perceptual Development in Children. New York, International Universities Press, 1966.

14. Bommarito J: Conditioning by Mild Verbal Punishment as a Predictor of Adjustment in Kindergarten, dissertation. Wayne State University, Detroit, 1964.

15. Thomas A: Primary reaction patterns in childhood. N.I.M.H. Research Grant Progress Report, April 1, 1966.

16. McDevitt SC: A Longitudinal Assessment of Continuity and Stability in Temperamental Characteristics From Infancy to Early Childhood, dissertation. Temple University, Philadelphia, 1976.

17. Chamberlin RW: The use of teacher checklists to identify children at risk for later behavioral and emotional problems. Am J Dis Child 130:141, 1976.

18. Standards of Child Health Care, ed 2. Evanston, Ill, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1972.

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William B. Carey, Marian Fox and Sean C. McDevitt

Temperament as a Factor in Early School Adjustment


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