PSYC14: Chapter 4 Culture and Developmental Processes
CULTURE AND TEMPERAMENT
What is culture?
Temperament- qualities of responsiveness to the environment that exist from birth and evoke different reactions from
people in the babys world. It is considered to be a biologically based style of interacting in the world
Some are more easy going, some are fussy from the moment the mother gives birth
Although it is biologically based it does not mean that it is fixed at birth or impervious to experience, instead it
reflects an interaction bw a childs predispositions and experiences in life; it can be modified over time
Thomas and Chess (1977) describe three major categories of temperament:
o Easy temperament- very regular, adaptable, mildly intense style of bhr that is positive and responsive
o Difficult temperament- intense, irregular, withdrawing style that is marked by negative moods
o Slow-to-warm temperament- take time to make transitions in activity and experiences. They may
withdraw initially or respond negatively, given time and support they will adapt and react responsively
A childs temperament style is believe to provide a foundation for later personality
The Goodness of Fit between Temperament and Culture
Thomas and Chess (1977) also developed the notion of goodness of fit- how well a childs temperament fits into the
expectations and values of the parents, environment and culture
If there is a mismatch, more negative child outcomes are expected; if there is a good match, better child outcomes
Research on Masai infants in Kenya:
Investigated the important of goodness of fit bw an infants temperament and their environment
They identified easy and difficult infants and followed them for several years
What was considered difficult temperament by Western standards actually became a protective factor against
malnutrition during a time of drought
Those classified as difficult = greater chance of survival
The difficult infants, who were active and fussy, demanded and consequently received more feeding and caring
from mothers this temperament may be adaptive in one culture and maladaptive in another!
We must interpret the infants dispositions and bhr in relation to the specific culture they may have diff
meanings when placed in a diff cultural context.
Cross-Cultural Studies on Temperament
2 fundamental differences If children of other culture have diff temperaments at birth, they will respond to the
environment differently; they will evoke different response from caregivers of the environment.
Earlier literature has compared North American or Western European infants to Asian infants with the conclusion
that Asian infants seem to have a predisposition to be less irritable compared to North American or West. Euro
Fredman (1947) found that Chinese American babies were calmer and more placid (easy going) than European
American babies or African American babies. When a cloth was placed on the Chinese babies faces covering their
noses, they had no response and just laid there quietly breathing. The other babies tried moving their heads and
tried to pull it off
Other studies of Chinese, Japanese and Hmong infants showed they were significantly less active, less irritable
and less vocal than European American infants
Another study found variation bw Asian countries too: Chinese and Japanese infants were compared, Chinese
newborns more irritable compared to Japanese
Temperament and Learning Culture
The quiet and placid temperament in Asian backgrounds is further stabilized later in infancy = Chinese parents value the
harmony through emotional restraint and emphasize and reinforce quiet bhrs.
Temperament may therefore serve as a baseline biological predisposition of the infant that allows this type of learning to
In Japan, non-reactivity (not expressing emotions) is more valued than in western cultures where higher levels of
reactivity are more acceptable
1 the differences in temperament may reflect each culture values about how to act/bhr
Dimensions of Temperament: A Focus on Behavioural Inhibition
Six temperamental dimensions have been identified: (1) activity level (motor movement and squirming) (2)smiling and
laughing (sociability), (3) fear (showing distress aka behavioural inhibition), (4) distress to limitations (when goal is
blocked), (5) soothability and (6) duration of orienting (how long they pay attn to an object w/o simulation)
The study of fear (aka behavioural inhibition) has received the most attention cross culturally.
Behavioural inhibition- as aspect of temperament where a child shows signs of wariness, discomfort, or distress
when confronted w/ novel, challenging, or unfamiliar situations. Aka fearfulness or shyness.
i.e. shy has been linked to their adjustment and social competence
in North America being shy is not a desirable trait, seen as immature and less liked by peers than assertive
children = it has also been linked to more anxiety, loneliness, negative and stressful family environment
in China, it is a more desirable trait they are considered more mature, well behaved and understanding; tend to
have high self-esteem and do well in school; more socially accepted by peers
if a childs temperament matches what is valued in their culture (aka goodness of fit) then more positive
developmental outcomes are expected
culture provides the meanings and consequences related to temperament
Cultures may change in terms of which temperamental traits are desirable.
Chen (2009) study of urban and rural Chinese children demonstrates how cultural ideals concerning shyness are
changing in context of globalization. Shyness was associated w/ leadership, social competence and academic
achievement but only for children living in the rural areas vs urban areas seeing shyness associated w/ more
depression, social and school problems (similar to what north America believes too)
Sources behind Temperamental Differences
Why does temperament differ across cultures?
Developmental contextualism perspective differences in temperament reflect he differences in genetics and in
reproductive histories as well as environmental and cultural pressures over generations that may have helped to produce
minor biological differences in infants through a functionally adaptive process