Article Summary

Article Summary



Article Summary

The article Children’s Behavioral Style at Age 3 are Linked to their Adult Personality Traits at Age 26 by Avshalom Caspi, HonaLee Harrington, Barry Milne, James W. Amell, Reremoana F. Theodore and Terrie E. Moffitt seeks to highlight the effect that children’s behavior have on their personality as adults. The researchers observe that the way children behave when they are young will determine their behavior, thoughts and feelings when they are adults. The researchers conducted the longitudinal study by observing over one thousand children aged three years old. They later observed them as adults when they were twenty-six years old. They observed that the children displayed five temperaments, which included confident, reserved, well adjusted, under controlled, and inhibited. The research showed that it is possible to determine someone’s personality by observing that person in his early childhood years. The study is important to educators, parents, and caregivers, as it shows the influence they can have on people’s personality by training children to adopt the appropriate behaviors.

                  The participants in the research were members of a longitudinal study from New Zealand. They comprised of 1037 children, 52% of who were male. The participants were born between April 1972 and March 1973 but the research began when they were three years old. The researchers followed up on the children when they were 26 years old. At the time, they assessed 980 participants of the original 1037. The researchers assessed the adults within 60 days after their birthdays. The evaluations included interviews, personality assessments, physical and dental exam. All the participants completed the multidimensional personality questionnaire. The personality scores examined included alienation, stress reaction, aggression, traditionalism, harm avoidance, self-control, social potency, achievement, well-being, and social closeness. The questionnaire had three super factors, which included negative emotionality, constraint v. disinhibition, and positive emotionality. The researchers also depended on informant response. They posted questionnaires to people who knew the participants well such as parents, best friends, and other members of the participants’ family. The informants were to judge the participants using the five-factor model. The model identifies five personalities, which include extraversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, and openness to experience.

                  The researchers were able to obtain 96% of the informant responses. The undercontrolled children scored high on alienation, traditionalism, aggression, and stress reaction but they scored low on social closeness and well-being. They were characterized by negative emotionality and informant reports indicated that they were the least agreeable and conscientious as adults. Well-adjusted children scored low on stress reaction. Confident children scored low on traditionalism and self-control but high on social potency. They were the most disinhibited, meaning that they showed the lowest constraints. Informant reports indicated that they were the most extraverted. The well-adjusted and confident children were more open to experiences as adults. The inhibited and reserved children scored high on harm avoidance but both groups scored low on social potency and achievement. Reserved children grew up to have low positive emotionality. The inhibited children scored low on well-being and they grew up to be the least extraverted. They had the lowest levels of positive emotionality and the highest levels of constraint.  

The results indicate that children do not change their behaviors much when they become adults. This is especially the case with people who were inhibitive and undercontrolled as children. The well-adjusted, confident and reserved groups showed some continuity of their behavior as adults. There is a clear difference between early childhood and adult years. At the age of twenty-six, people have more control over how their life should be. They have a chance to change their experiences and situations in life. However, the research indicates that they have retained the behavior they had as children or their personalities increase in strength despite the difference in time. The results from the study show the need to intervene in an effort to improve a child’s behavior. Children are capable of learning new behaviors and this is essential to their development in later life. The kind of environment that a child grows in, as well as the influences in his or her life will be influential in determining how that child will turn out to be as an adult.

Berecz (2009) defines personality as the “stable core of emotions, dispositions, attitudes, and behaviors that uniquely characterize a person at a specific point in time and shape development across the lifespan (3).” This definition highlights the often-unchanging nature of people’s behaviors and attitudes over time. People’s personalities are stable over the course of their lifetime. By the time that the researchers were reexamining the participants again in their adulthood, the children had already undergone several changes. They had gone to school up to different levels, interacted with other people, become married, got a job, and changed their situation in life. They had acquired numerous experiences in their lives that would have made them change their perceptions about life, other people, and themselves. However, as the researchers found out the changes in life did not necessary indicate a change in their personalities. There was definitely some level of maturity since the adult participants did not have similar behaviors as when they were children. However, the general outlook towards life remained the same.

Berecz definition also shows the core factors that comprise personality. The emotions, behaviors, and attitudes that people have will determine their personality. It would not be possible to understand people’s personalities without determining how they behave or how they approach the situations that they face in life. The researchers took the time to observe the children’s behavior. They noted that children who were well adjusted had behaviors such as the capability to have self-control. Under controlled children were restless and impulsive. Confident children were zealous in their approach towards life and they were curious about the things around them. Inhibited children were fearful and they became upset easily. The reserved children were uncomfortable and shy but they had enough confidence to proceed with the tasks assigned to them. The researchers observed the behavior of the participants when they were adults and the studies indicated that the changes were not significant. It would not be possible to define personality without identifying such behaviors and emotions.

The research is significant and important, especially in terms of training children and understanding adult behavior. Teachers, parents, and other caregivers need to take extra precaution in the way the children behave. This is because of the impact that the behavior will have on the development of the child’s personality. It is possible for teachers to train children how to behave properly and to adopt positive attitudes towards life. The experiment began when children were three years old. This means that people have already developed unique ways of behaving at a tender age. Caregivers do not have to assume that the children will grow out of their behavior when they become older. For instance, they can train children not to be aggressive and encourage those who are afraid by showing them that they have nothing to fear. Providing a safe environment for children is essential in helping them to adopt skills that are more sociable. Encouragement is especially important for timid children, as it will enable them to become self-confident. People who were troublesome and aggressive in their children may develop appropriate behavior over time. However, this requires active intervention from the adults around them.

Even though people might exhibit similar behaviors, personality is unique to every individual. Confident people might be outgoing and willing to experience new things in life, but each of them will desire different types and levels of experiences. Therefore, although it is possible to train children and enable them to acquire new behaviors, it will not be possible to force them to adopt new personalities.

The researchers were able to ensure validity and reliability of the research by using a large sample from the general population and keeping in touch with most of the participants over the long period that the research took place. They were able to do this because they used participants from the same region. In addition, they were able to eliminate bias by ensuring that they depended on different sources of information. When the researchers assessed the children, they did not depend on the reports from their caregivers. They instead observed and recorded the behavior of the children. Other than the use of self-reports obtained from the participants, the authors emailed informants with a different set of questionnaire. This varied the sources of information as well as the responses that they got. To examine the participants’ personalities, the authors used the Tellegen and the five factor models of personality structure.


Berecz, J. M. (2009). Theories of personality: A zonal perspective. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson

Caspi, A., Harrington, H., Milne, B., Amell, W. J., Theodore, F. R., & Moffitt, E. T. (2003). Children’s behavioral styles at age 3 are linked to their adult personality traits at age 26. Journal of Personality, 71(4), 495-514

Copy of Abstract

We observed 1,000 3-year-old children who exhibited five temperament types: Undercontrolled, Inhibited, Confident, Reserved, and Well-adjusted. Twenty-three years later, we reexamined 96% of the children as adults, using multiple methods of comprehensive personality assessment, including both self- and informant-reports. These longitudinal data provide the longest and strongest evidence to date that children’s early-emerging behavioral styles can foretell their characteristic behaviors, thoughts, and feelings as adults, pointing to the foundations of the human personality in the early years of life.

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