Thomas & Chess

Research of Thomas & Chess

"Man's increased understanding of himself and his world has been a major component in the history of human society. The chief intellectual characteristic of this history has been man's ability to increasingly remove himself from the concrete experience of the phenomenological 'here and now' and place himself in an abstracted world of concepts and logic."

The pivotal temperament investigation of school age children was the New York Longitudinal Study started in 1956 and conducted over a six year time span by Thomas and Chess. The researchers studied 141 children from 85 US middle to upper-middle-class families. Thomas and chess developed their parent questionnaire (NYLSQ) to emasure a child's activity level, rhythmicity, approach-withdraw, adaptability, threshold of responsiveness, intensity of reaction, quality of mood, distractibility, and attention span. Thomas and Chess were proponents of matching instructional style to the learner's style.

The researchers made implications of their study to adult reactions. Adults "...with negative reactions to the new and slowly adaptability may be very shy and even timid, have difficulty in social interactions and turn down new jobs or promotions if they are unfamiliar, especially if they have had many unpleasant and distressing experiences of being forced too quickly into new situations when growing up. If, however, their temperamental traits have been recognized and respected by their parents and teachers, and they have been allowed to adopt comfortably at their own pace, the story of adult life will be different. The person may get to know that his first negative reactions to the new are only temporary, and will be able to participate actively in such situations, whether socially or at work, because he knows from his life experiences that the initial discomfort will dissapear and he will then master and enjoy them."

They further state that in adult life,"...high distractiability and low persistence can easily make the individual vulnerable to poorness of fit. In our culture the traditional work ethic emphasizes persistent and concentrated attention to a task until it is completed...Unfortunately, all too often, parents, teachers, or employees may pay too much attention to such a person's inability to stick to a task to completion without any diversion, and lose sight of the fact that she does finish the assignment successfuly and reliably."

Thomas and Chess state that temperament can be equated to the term behavior style. Each refers to the how of behavior rather than the what or the why of behavior. "Temperament is a phenomenological term in which the categorization of any individual is derived from the constellation of behaviors exhibited at any one age-period. These behaviors are the result of all the influences, past and present, which shape and modify behaviors in a constantly evolving interactive process. Consistency of a temperamental trait or constellation in an individual over time, therefore, may require stability in these interactional forces, such as environmental influences, motivations and abilities."

The authors believed that the identification of an individual's temperamental pattern requires concrete descriptive data from a wide variety of life situations. "The necessary data can be obtained by the use of a systematic interview protocol, a brief interview which focusses on clinical material by a series of direct observations, or by a questionnaire. The approach that apepars least reliable is the utilization of global questions, in which the individual is asked to rate himself or his child on each of the temperamental characteristics as such. This methodology may be of some value when other techniques are unavailable or impractical. But our experience and those of Carey indicate that any data obtained by such global self-rating scales must be assessed with geat caution" (p.186).

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All contents copyright (C) 1995
Peter L. Heineman
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