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05-11 Understanding temperament: Personality makes you … you

Posted in Advocacy, Psychiatry

Understanding temperament: Personality makes you … you

People become who they are due to a combination of nature and nurture. Nature refers to inherited characteristics, such as genetic composition and instinctual traits, such as temperament. Nurture refers to environmental characteristics that influence people, such as physical environment and life experiences. Nature can be modulated or shaped over time through nurture, which is how personality develops.

The sciences of epigenetics and neuroplasticity demonstrate how environments shape people, though most changes occur gradually across the lifespan. Temperament refers to inborn reaction patterns that are fairly consistent over time, but can be shaped either positively or negatively through interactions with others. Personality is the behavioral style that results from nature-nurture interaction.

Goodness of fit: Who gets along with whom?

Whether the nature-nurture interaction results in positive or negative change depends on a concept called goodness of fit. This concept describes the quality and quantity of agreement between the person (characteristics, capacity and behavioral style) and the environment (expectations, demands, receptiveness and responsiveness). People constantly influence their environments as much as environments constantly influence people.

It takes all kinds: The different faces of temperament

Sandee McClowry, Ph.D., studies temperament in children so that she can show parents and teachers ways to effectively interact with them based on their individual temperaments. She also has developed temperament-based interventions to build positive environments at home and at school.

Rating students on behavioral patterns such as negative reactions, task persistence, level of shyness and physical activity helps clinicians determine what type of temperament they have. There are “high-maintenance” types, who tend to react negatively and are hyperactive, for example. “Industrious” types tend to react more positively to things and are persistent when performing tasks. Other types include “social/eager,” “cautious/slow to warm up” and mixed types.

While each temperament type has challenges, each also has incredible strengths. By recognizing all students’ individual temperaments, parents and teachers can acknowledge and support their strengths and avoid unnecessary conflict.

Putting it all together: What to expect

Understanding temperament is valuable for gaining insight into how people interact with their environments and each other. This series will provide a foundational framework for anyone who is interested in learning about human nature, interactions and how to build a positive environment that brings out the best in everyone.

While personalities may change slowly over time, sudden changes are not typical and usually occur as a result of substance abuse, underlying illness or a traumatic experience. It is extremely important to determine whether a problem exists so that appropriate actions can be taken to ensure safety and well-being. When substance use or suicidal ideation is suspected, seek help immediately.

About us

Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego treats adolescents with mental health disorders, substance use disorders and dual diagnosis. In addition, our adolescent program treats 12- to 17-year-old girls with eating disorders. Our programs integrate state-of-the-art neurocognitive treatments with alternative approaches like experiential therapies. Experiential therapies help foster creative expression and help heal the spirit. To learn more about our specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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