Temperament and Personality Assessments: Tools for Mediators?

By Abrams, Nina Dodge | Dispute Resolution Journal, November-January 2011 | Go to article overview

Temperament and Personality Assessments: Tools for Mediators?


Abrams, Nina Dodge, Dispute Resolution Journal


Developing an understanding of the temperament and personality traits of mediation participants may help mediators communicate more effectively and encourage the building of trust in the mediator and mediation process itself.

The study of temperament and personality has advanced significantly since 1942 when Isabel Myers used her personality typology to place people in appropriate jobs. Now more is known about temperament and how it relates to character and personality.1 This

leads to the question of whether it is possible to predict how people will react to different stimuli with knowledge of their temperament and personality. The answer is maybe and sometimes. The study of temperament and its by-product personality traits is not a certain science. This article advances two hypotheses: First, that developing an understanding of the temperament and personality of mediation participants could be helpful to mediators in that they would be able to communicate more effectively with them, which could facilitate the building of trust in the mediator and the mediation process itself. Second, that mediators could quickly obtain the information necessary to make the classifications, say, in the first 10 minutes while chatting with the participants. How ever, research into these hy potheses remains to be conducted. The purpose of this article is to introduce the work of the main researchers in the field of temperament and personality to the mediation community and make it easy for newcomers to understand these concepts.

Defining Temperament

Temperament is the innate, heritable, core part of a person's personality. It includes the inborn traits that underlie our responses to experience. Aalok Mehta says temperament means a set of biological and environmental conditions that cause infants to react to the world the way they do.2 Thus, temperament is mostly the neurobiological profile an infant inherits from his or her parents (including genes), and the remainder is due to environmental conditions surrounding the mother during pregnancy.

Richard J. Davidson, from the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, says that the study of temperament considers the role of variation in human emotional responses.3 In his view, temperament refers to particular types of variation that are observable from very early in life and are assumed to be, at least in part, heritable and modestly stable.

Jerome Kagan, another researcher in the field, makes clear that understanding the variations in temperament and other emotional characteristics between people is critical to understanding human personality. He says that variations in temperament "are accompanied by variations not only in brain function, but also in patterns of peripheral biology-that is, biology below the neck."4 Kagan recognized heritable factors in temperament, including genes, the mother's physiology and its influence on the embryo and fetus (for instance, the conditions in the womb, secretions by the mother), and the mother's emotional and physical health (for example, was she subjected to stress or illness immediately before or during the pregnancy?).

Kagan also recognized another factor-the neuroplasticity of the brain. Neuroplasticity al lows neural circuits to be altered by influences outside of the brain, including one's parents, the environment, one's peers, experience and "life." For example, as Kagan points out, a child's core temperament will clearly be altered by the behavior of the mother towards the child, whether the mother is affectionate or critical.

Kagan cautions that scientists are still in the early stage of un - derstanding the relations among genes, brain chemistry, and psychological phenomena. "But," he wrote, "the advances of the last 50 years have also revealed the extraordinary complexity of these biological biases and the need to combine biology with experience in order to explain a person's characteristic moods, reactions to challenge, and daily habits. …

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