Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Temperament and Personality as Potential Factors in the Development and Treatment of Conduct Disorders

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Temperament and Personality as Potential Factors in the Development and Treatment of Conduct Disorders

Article excerpt


The development of Conduct Disorder (CD) in children and adolescents is examined from the perspective of Hans Eysenck's biosocial theory of personality. The theory views personality as a product of the interaction of biologically based temperament source traits and socialization experiences. Eysenck's antisocial behavior (ASB) hypothesis about the development of antisocial behavior is discussed. Intervention suggestions for antisocial behavior based on Eysenck's theory are presented. The possible interaction of temperament based personality profiles with the interventions for CD identified as well established or as probably efficacious using criteria developed by the American Psychological Association are also discussed. Finally, the possible contribution of Eysenckian personality profiles to Kazdin's proposal for the use of a chronic disease model when treating CD is discussed.


There are many contributing factors in the development of conduct problems (McMahon & Wells, 1998), including a number of biological factors (Niehoff, 1999). Temperament is a biologically based trait that in some cases is a risk factor predisposing individuals to antisocial and aggressive behavior. One well known perspective on temperament is based on the New York Longitudinal Study (Thomas, Chess & Birch, 1968; Chess & Thomas, 1987). This longitudinal study identified a temperament pattern called the difficult child that represents a risk factor for antisocial behavior. Another perspective on temperament as a risk factor in antisocial behavior is Eysenck's biosocial theory of personality (Eysenck, 1995). In Eysenck's model, personality is the product of an interaction between temperament and social experience. It is a model strongly supported by a very long and continuous history of research and development (Eysenck, 1947,1967,1981, 1991a, 199Th, 1995; H. Eysenck & M. Eysenck, 1985).

Eysenck's temperament based theory is sometimes referred to as a three-factor model of personality in which the three factors are Extroversion (E), Neuroticism (N), and Psychoticism (P). Eysenck (1991a) points out that nearly all large-scale studies of personality find the equivalent of the three traits he proposes. Further, the traits are found across cultures worldwide. Assessments of an individual on the traits are relatively stable across time. Finally, research on the genetics of personality supports the three traits (Eaves, Eysenck, & Martin, 1988).

The development of the theory and related research has given considerable attention to measurement. The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire developed for research on the model includes both adult and child versions (H. Eysenck & S. Eysenck, 1975,1993). None of the scales are intended as a measure of psychopathology; but rather they are measures of temperament based personality traits.

The Extroversion (E) trait is represented by a bipolar scale that is anchored at one end by sociability and stimulation seeking and at the other end by social reticence and stimulation avoidance. Extroversion is hypothesized to be dependent upon the baseline arousal level in an individual's neocortex and mediated through the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) (Eysenck, 1967,1977,1997). The difference in basal arousal between introverts and extraverts is evident in research on their differential response to drugs. Claridge (1995) reviews drug response studies that demonstrate introverts require more of a sedative drug than do extraverts to reach a specified level of sedation. This finding is explained by the higher basal level of cortical arousal in introverts.

The Neuroticism (N) trait is anchored at one end by emotional instability and spontaneity and by reflection and deliberateness at the other end. This trait's name is based on the susceptibility of individuals high on the N trait to anxiety-based problems. Neuroticism is hypothesized to be dependent upon an individual's emotional arousability due to differences in ease of visceral brain activation, which is mediated by the hypothalamus and limbic system (Eysenck, 1977, 1997). …

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