Temperamental predictors of prosocial and problem behaviors



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Temperament is widely recognized as an important factor in shaping the trajectory of social and emotional development across childhood. However, the particular mechanisms by which temperamental differences contribute to emergence of early prosocial or problem behaviors have been poorly elucidated. The current study sought to examine the association between various temperamental factors on the emergence of internalizing, externalizing and empathic behaviors in toddlers. Temperament profiles were derived for 38 children, aged 29 to 34 months, based on responses by mothers to questions on the Early Childhood Behavior Questionnaire. Internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors were assessed using the Child Behavior Checklist. Finally, empathic behaviors were measured behaviorally during a laboratory play session. Scores on three temperamental factor scales (negative affect, surgency, and effortful control) were examined in relation to behavioral problems (internalizing/externalizing) and prosocial (global empathy towards mother/experimenter) behaviors using linear correlations and regressions. Higher negative emotionality was linked with increased internalizing and externalizing behaviors, while increased surgency was associated with decreased internalizing behaviors. These results are consistent with prior studies of temperament, supporting the contention that early child temperament significantly contributes to the emergence of behavior problems. No significant interaction effects were found between temperament styles in predicting behavior problems. Additionally, no significant main or interaction effects were found in predicting adaptive behaviors, such as empathic responding. The significance of these results is discussed with respect to our understanding of the etiological pathways to adaptive and maladaptive socioemotional development.