Children show different temperamental styles early in development. Whether temperament predicts who children become as adults and how early we can predict these outcomes have been long-standing questions of interest to the scientific and public community. The current study used rigorous methods to characterize an inhibited temperament by 14 mo of age in a cohort of infants and followed them for three decades. We provide the strongest and earliest evidence showing that infants with an inhibited temperament at 14 mo became introverted adults, with poorer functioning in some social and mental health domains. Also, brain activity underlying cognitive control in adolescence was associated with adult mental health. These findings highlight the lasting influence of early temperament on social-emotional development.Abstract
Does infant temperament predict adult personality and life-course patterns? To date, there is scant evidence examining relations between child temperament and adult outcomes, and extant research has relied on limited methods for measuring temperament such as maternal report. This prospective longitudinal study followed a cohort of infants (n = 165) for three decades to examine whether infant behavioral inhibition, a temperament characterized by cautious and fearful behaviors to unfamiliar situations, shapes long-term personality, social relationships, vocational/education, and mental health outcomes in adulthood. At age 14 mo, behavioral inhibition was assessed using an observation paradigm. In adolescence (15 y; n = 115), error monitoring event-related potentials were measured in a flanker task. In adulthood (26 y; n = 109), personality, psychopathology, and sociodemographics were self-reported using questionnaires. We found that infants with higher levels of behavioral inhibition at 14 mo grew up to become more reserved and introverted adults (β = 0.34) with lower social functioning with friends and family (β = −0.23) at age 26. Infant behavioral inhibition was also a specific risk factor for adult internalizing (i.e., anxiety and depression, β = 0.20) psychopathology, rather than a transdiagnostic risk for general and externalizing psychopathology. We identified a neurophysiologic mechanism underlying risk and resilience for later psychopathology. Heightened error monitoring in adolescence moderated higher levels of adult internalizing psychopathology among behaviorally inhibited individuals. These findings suggest meaningful continuity between infant temperament and the development of adult personality. They provide the earliest evidence suggesting that the foundation of long-term well-being is rooted in individual differences in temperament observed in infancy.