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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Infant Temperament Predicts Personality More Than 20 Years Later

A mom sits on the lawn snuggling with her 2 young children.

A study funded by NIH provides robust evidence of the impact of infant temperament on adult outcomes.

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 NIH 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 Dr. Daniel Pine, 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; children with BI have been found to be at greater risk for developing social withdrawal and anxiety disorders than children without BI.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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