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The Long Shadow of Temperament

The Long Shadow of Temperament

Jerome Kagan, Nancy Snidman

ISBN 9780674032330

Publication date: 06/15/2009

We have seen these children—the shy and the sociable, the cautious and the daring—and wondered what makes one avoid new experience and another avidly pursue it. At the crux of the issue surrounding the contribution of nature to development is the study that Jerome Kagan and his colleagues have been conducting for more than two decades. In The Long Shadow of Temperament, Kagan and Nancy Snidman summarize the results of this unique inquiry into human temperaments, one of the best-known longitudinal studies in developmental psychology. These results reveal how deeply certain fundamental temperamental biases can be preserved over development.

Identifying two extreme temperamental types—inhibited and uninhibited in childhood, and high-reactive and low-reactive in very young babies—Kagan and his colleagues returned to these children as adolescents. Surprisingly, one of the temperaments revealed in infancy predicted a cautious, fearful personality in early childhood and a dour mood in adolescence. The other bias predicted a bold childhood personality and an exuberant, sanguine mood in adolescence. These personalities were matched by different biological properties. In a masterly summary of their wide-ranging exploration, Kagan and Snidman conclude that these two temperaments are the result of inherited biologies probably rooted in the differential excitability of particular brain structures. Though the authors appreciate that temperamental tendencies can be modified by experience, this compelling work—an empirical and conceptual tour-de-force—shows how long the shadow of temperament is cast over psychological development.


  • This work has the potential to function as a bridge between more humanistic theories of human development and contemporary research and perspectives that are more thoroughly grounded in the natural sciences… [This] new book stands alongside Kagan’s previous works in terms of being thoughtful and stimulating. Regardless of the extent to which one agrees with Kagan and Snidman‘s assertions about the role of temperament, their concept of how it interacts with parenting and context, or their ideas regarding the degree to which it is genetic, the authors are always interesting and thought provoking. Together, Kagan and Snidman have provided a timely work on the relationship between biology and psychology that many readers will find provocative.

    —John Snarey and Lynn Bridgers, PsycCritiques


  • Jerome Kagan was Daniel and Amy Starch Research Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Harvard University.
  • Nancy Snidman is Lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Research Director of the Harvard University Infant and Child Study Center.

Book Details

  • 304 pages
  • 5 x 7-7/8 inches
  • Belknap Press

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