Temperament Moderates Cognitive Function at 15 Months

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It is becoming increasingly clear that infants’ and toddlers’ temperament may play a central role in their cognitive and linguistic functioning. Research has found, for example, that at 21 months of age, children’s “attentional focus” moderates the extent that environmental distractions prevent them from learning novel words or solving nonlinguistic problems. The purpose of the present investigation was to explore the extent that dimensions of temperament moderate the performance of 15-month-olds on two typical nonlinguistic problemsolving tasks in the presence of environmental distractions. Forty-two 15-month olds visited the lab and were presented two tasks: “feed bear” and “make a rattle.” Infants were familiarized with the two sets of props initially, and then were presented models of desired action sequences. Half the children experienced a distraction during the feed bear task, the remaining were distracted during make a rattle. For each task, four dependent variables were scored: number of target actions performed, variety of target actions performed, longest chain of target actions performed, and number of pairs of actions performed in order. Temperament was measured via maternal report using the Early Child Behavior Questionnaire. Multivariate analyses revealed that children’s performance varied as a function of task [F(5, 24) = 5.42, p = .001]. The distractions also attenuated the effects of the model for both feed bear [univariate Fs(1, 40) = 4.21 to 9.22, ps = .047 to .018] and make a rattle [univariate Fs (1, 40) = 4.08 to 6.08, ps = .050 to .018]. Interactions of these effects with temperament were many, but complex. For example, low intensity pleasure moderated distracter effects, but only for feed bear [Fs(1, 27) = 5.19 to 9.73, ps = .031 to .004]. In other analyses, toddlers low in perceptual sensitivity benefited more from the model than did children high on that dimension [F’s(1, 28) = 3.71 to 6.67, p’s = .064 to .015)]. A number of additional temperament related findings also obtained. There is considerable reason to continue explorations into potential roles that temperament may play in infants’ cognitive and language development. Results from the present study extend previous findings to the 15-month age period, which, to our knowledge, has not been investigated in previous research. The present results also suggest that roles played by temperament may be exceptionally complex, and highlight the multifaceted internal and external experiences through which children must navigate to become competent thinkers and communicators in an adult world.


Vancouver, BC

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