Wary, Subdued Infants Tend to Grow into “Anxious, Inhibited Adults”

(p. A21) Prof. Jerome Kagan, a Harvard psychologist whose research into temperament found that shy infants often grow up to be anxious and fearful adults because of their biological nature as well as the way they were nurtured, died on May 10 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

. . .

Professor Kagan argued in more than two dozen books, including the widely praised “The Nature of the Child” (1984), that some children were genetically wired to worry and that they proved to be more resilient than expected as they passed from one stage of maturity to another. He also contended that the specifics of parenting were often not as crucial to a child’s future as parents think, although the child’s natural predisposition to be shy or exuberant could be altered by experience.

. . .

Professor Kagan and his collaborators, including Howard A. Moss and Nancy C. Snidman, pioneered the reintroduction of physiology as a determinant of psychological characteristics that could be measured in the brain.

They derived their conclusions from lengthy studies that started with the videotaped reactions of toddlers and infants as young as 4 months to various stimuli — unfamiliar objects, people and situations — and correlated those reactions to their temperament as teenagers and beyond, as measured in interviews.

The wary ones who were subdued, shy and hovered around their mothers or who fussed, thrashed around and cried — about 15 percent of the total — tended to become anxious, inhibited adults. Another 15 percent who were ebullient as infants and embraced every new toy and interviewer tended to develop into fearless children and adolescents.

Professor Kagan acknowledged that as an ideological liberal he had originally believed that all individuals were capable of achieving similar goals if afforded the same opportunities. “I was so resistant to awarding biology much influence,” he wrote.

For the full obituary see:

Sam Roberts. “Jerome Kagan, 92, Psychologist Who Tied Temperament to Biology, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, May 22, 2021): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 21, 2021, and has the title “Jerome Kagan, Who Tied Temperament to Biology, Dies at 92.”

Kagan’s book, mentioned above, is:

Kagan, Jerome. The Nature of the Child (Tenth Anniversary Edition). New York: Basic Books, 1994.

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