The Role Of Temperament

An alternative explanation of individual differences in attachment to that proposed by Ainsworth (1973) emphasizing the quality of maternal care draws attention to the infant's temperament, especially the dimension of negative emotionality or difficulty (e.g., Goldsmith & Alansky, 1987). In particular, it was argued that insecurity reflects distress in the Strange Situation, which itself is a function of temperament (Chess & Thomas, 1982; Kagan, 1982). A fundamental problem with this interpretation, of course, was that infants classified as both secure and insecure evince great variation in distress in the Strange Situation. Consideration of Figure 3.1 makes it clear that some secure infants typically evince a great deal of distress in the Strange Situation (i.e., those classified B3 and B4), whereas others do not (i.e., B1, B2), and that some insecure infants typically express a great deal of negativity in the Strange Situation (i.e., C1, C2), whereas others do not (i.e., A1, A2).

A possible way of bringing together competing perspectives on the role of temperament in the measurement of attachment security in the Strange Situation occurred to me upon considering results of findings generated by Thompson and Lamb (1984) and by Frodi and Thompson (1985). When it came to the expression and regulation of negative emotion in the Strange Situation, these investigators observed that secure infants receiving classifications of B1 and B2 looked more like insecure infants receiving classifications of A1 and A2 than like other secure infants (i.e., B3, B4); and that secure infants receiving classifications of B3 and B4 looked more like insecure infants classified C1 and C2 than like other secure infants (i.e., B1, B2). This observation raised the following question in my mind: Might temperament shape the way in which security or insecurity is manifested in the Strange Situation (A1, A2, B1, B2 vs. B3, B4, C1, C2), rather than directly determine whether or not a child was classified as secure? That is, might early temperament account for why some secure infants became highly distressed in the Strange Situation (i.e., those classified B3 or B4), whereas others did not (B1, B2), and why some insecure infants became highly distressed in the Strange Situation (C1, C2), whereas others did not (A1, A2). To address this question, we examined data available on 184 firstborn infants participating in our second and third longitudinal studies.

As theorized, we found that measures of temperament obtained during the newborn period, using the Brazelton Neonatal Behavior Exam, and when infants were 3 months of age, using maternal reports, discriminated infants classified as A1, A2, B1, and B2—that is, the ones who cried little in the Strange Situation—from those classified as B3, B4, C1, and C2 (i.e., those who tend to cry more). These measures did not distinguish infants classified secure (B1, B2, B3, B4) from those classified insecure (A1, A2, C1, C2), however (Belsky & Rovine, 1987). More specifically, although secure and insecure infants did not differ on any of the temperament measures in either of the two longitudinal samples, those most likely to express negative emotion in the Strange Situation at 12 months of age scored lower as newborns on orientation (i.e., visual following, alertness, attention) and evinced less autonomic stability (i.e., regulation of state) and scored higher at age 3 months on a cumulative difficulty index. Thus, consistent with my theorizing and the Thompson, Lamb, and Frodi analyses of emotion expression within the Strange Situation, early temperament appeared to affect the degree to which infants became overtly distressed in the Strange Situation but not how they regulated—with or without the assistance of their mother—their negative affect. In sum, early temperament was systematically related to how much distress infants evinced in the Strange Situation, but not whether they were secure or insecure.

In these first investigations, we, like all other investigators, focused solely upon temperament at a single point in time (i.e., during the newborn period or at 3 months of age). Such an approach was generally consistent with the then-prevailing view of temperament as an inborn, stable, constitutional trait not particularly subject to change. Because we had obtained identical temperament reports from mothers when infants were 3 and 9 months of age, we found ourselves in the enviable position of being able to reconceptualize temperament as a characteristic of the infant that was, in theory at least, subject to change. And when we examined change in temperament, as reported by mother, using data from our first longitudinal study, especially interesting results emerged: Infants who at 1 year of age were classified as secure became more predictable and adaptable from 3 to 6 months, whereas the exact opposite was true of infants who would develop insecure attachments to their mothers (Belsky & Isabella, 1988).

Such results raised the prospect that change in temperament may be what security of attachment, at least in some cases, is all about—a notion that Cassidy (1994) advanced in an effort to interpret attachment from an emotion-regulation perspective. That is, what security of attachment reflects is the child's ability to regulate on his own, or to co-regulate with the expected assistance of his mother, his emotions. Secure children, then, are ones who have developed, in the context of the mother-infant relationship, the ability to manage negative affect and share positive affect. Insecure children, in contrast, are inclined to suppress negativity, or lose control of it, and/or fail to share positive feelings. Theorizing, then, that change in the manifestation of emotion over time might reflect emotion-regulation processes and, thereby, be related to attachment security, we examined, using 148 firstborn infants participating in our second and third longitudinal studies, stability and change in two separate dimensions of temperament, positive and negative emotionality, each based upon composited observational and maternal-report measures obtained when infants were 3 and 6 months of age (Belsky, Fish, & Isabella, 1991). More specifically, at each age, we relied upon maternal reports of how often infants smiled and laughed, as well as cried and fussed, and frequencies of these same behaviors observed during the course of two separate observations, one when mother was home alone with the infant and another when mother and father were at home with the child.

To be noted is that it was consideration of the emotional expressions in the Strange Situation of insecure-avoidant and some secure infants, especially those classified B1 and B2, which led us to think about positive emotions as well as negative emotions with respect to temperament change and attachment security. Central to such thinking was the observation that one thing that distinguished these two groups of children (i.e., A1/A2 vs. B1/B2) was that the secure children classified as B1 or B2 in the Strange Situation openly greeted their mothers upon reunion—with smiles, gestures, and vocalizations—whereas insecure-avoidant infants classified A1 or A2 seemed to suppress any proclivity to greet and express positive sentiment. Also influencing our separate focus upon infant positive and negative emotionality was evidence from the literature on emotions and moods in adulthood highlighting the need to distinguish positive and negative emotionality (Belsky & Pensky, 1988).

Relying upon our repeatedly-measured (at 3 and 6 months) composites of infant positivity and negativity, we created four groups of infants with respect to each emotionality dimension: those scoring high on the dimension in question at both points in time, those scoring low at both points in time, those who changed from high to low, and those who changed from low to high. Figure 3.3 graphically illustrates the stability and change groups in the case of negativity. When we examined attachment security at 1 year of age as a function of these stability and change groups, several interesting findings emerged (Belsky, Fish, & Isabella, 1991). First, changes in negative emotionality were not as strongly related to later attachment as changes in positive emotionality. Consistent with the results of Malatesta et al. (1989), however, we discovered that it was infants who declined in the positivity they manifested between 3 and 9 months who were most likely to be classified as insecure in their attachment at 1 year of age. This suggested to us that change in the temperamental dimension of positive emotionality might reflect processes of emotion regulation and thus that emotion regulation and attachment were

STABILITY AND CHANGE GROUPS: Raw Negative Emotionality Mean Scores

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