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You might sometimes wonder if it’s nature or nurture driving the differences between people. For example, why are some of us extroverts and others introverts? Why are some children risk-takers while others are more inhibited? Well, it turns out both nature and nurture are important! The nature part of the equation is sometimes overlooked, but our biological temperament plays an important role in the kind of person we become.

In this episode, Debbie and Yael discuss Childhood Temperament, the topic of Debbie’s dissertation research at Harvard. They delve into some longitudinal research on the temperamental underpinnings of shyness and behavioral inhibition. They also discuss the clinical implications of individual differences in emotional reactivity, and the personality constructs of introversion and extroversion.

Listen up to learn about:

  • How “high-reactive” infants differ from “low-reactive” infants

  • How early reactivity correlates with behavioral inhibition and shyness later in childhood

  • Why Attachment research may leave out some important information

  • The importance of “goodness of fit” between parents and their children

  • Whether you a “carpenter” or a “gardener” as a parent parent

  • What introversion and extroversion really means and how to appreciate your personality style


The APA’s list of Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century

Brief Video Showing Kagan’s Temperament Study with Infants

Books by Kagan on Temperament:

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain


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Transcript of Episode:


Debbie Sorensen: [00:00:00] The way that Kagan describes it as that temperament sort of constrains who we’ll become later. So it’s not totally predictive, but it maybe puts a little bit of a constraint on it, right? Like the Clint Eastwood type is probably not going to end up being the really introverted socially phobic person and vice versa. You know, someone who is extremely high, reactive and inhibited is pretty unlikely to, to totally swing the other direction.

Diana Hill: [00:00:26] . We are three clinical psychologists committed to cutting edge integrated and evidence based strategies for living well

Yael Schonbrun: [00:00:41] on this podcast. We bring you ideas from psychology that can help you flourish in your work, parenting, relationships, and health.

Diana Hill: [00:00:49] I am Dr. Diana Hill practicing in seaside, Santa Barbara, California.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:00:52] I’m dr Debbie Sorenson practicing in mile high Denver, Colorado,

Yael Schonbrun: [00:00:56] and from coast to coast. I’m dr Yele shone Brent a Boston based [00:01:00] clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Brown university.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:01:03] We hope this podcast offers you ideas for how to live a full and meaningful life.

Diana Hill: [00:01:08] Thank you for listening 

Debbie Sorensen: [00:01:11] Hi Yael

Yael Schonbrun: [00:01:13] Hi Debbie.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:01:15] So, I’m happy you’re here today with me. We’re going to be talking about a topic that’s related to the old question in psychology:  nature versus nurture? And this is a big question, especially in the world of developmental psychology, that people are kind of looking at both sides of the nature nurture question.

And specifically we’re going to be taking a look at the idea of childhood temperament, which is sometimes I think a bit overlooked as a factor. And also we’re going to go from there into the personality construct of introversion and extroversion.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:01:51] Yeah, this is such an important topic I think as parents, but also just as individuals and sort of understanding what are the contributing factors to how [00:02:00] we are in the world, how we engage and, and I think, um, some of the research that you’re going to be talking about will really help us understand ourselves and the people around as much better.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:02:08] Yeah. I think it’s kind of a fun one too, cause people often like to think about, you know, what kind of person am I? Am I an introvert, an extrovert? And it’s maybe not exactly what you think it is. Yeah, so I have a background in this area. In graduate school, I did my dissertation in developmental psychology and I worked with Jerome Kagan.

Now, incidentally, and I think this is kind of a cool story, he was number 22 on the APA’s list of Eminent Psychologist of the 20th Century, which is kind of awesome that he was on this list. Well, we can link to this on the webpage on the show notes for today.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:02:48] I really recognize his name and I’m pretty sure that I learned about him in graduate school, but it was so exciting to sort of get to look back on this through the work that you’ve done with him and, and your participation in some [00:03:00] of his research.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:03:00] Well, it was a little bit, actually prepping the episode was a little bit of a Stroll down memory lane for me because I moved into clinical psychology after I finished graduate school, but I really have some fond memories of those days. I was actually Jerry Kagan’s last graduate student, his last PhD student, but he’s still working as an emeritus professor at Harvard and he’s, I think around 90 now. Um, and I have, yeah, I have so many memories of him. He would get so excited about research and data and whatever article he had just read that he would literally come over and grab your shoulder and start like shaking you and he, I also have this memory of how he would  basically just break the no smoking rules and smoke a pipe in William James Hall, because you know, he’s Jerry Kagan, he could get away with it. And so I will always think of him when I smell the smell of pipe smoke for the rest of my life. It’s like associated [00:04:00] with him. And he, it was really cool because he knew so many of the great minds of psychology.

He had a beach house in Cape Cod right by Erik Erickson’s. And you would just watch him go to talks and just get in these debates with really smart people in the field. Um, so I learned so much from him and it was kind of fun to reminisce. And honestly, one of his best traits as a researcher is that he could be persuaded that he’s wrong about things.

Like he had very strong opinions, but if you showed them convincing data, he would. Change his point of view. And you know, he was always reading in different areas outside of psychology. So it was really kind of cool intellectual role model for me.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:04:41] Yeah. He sounds like an incredible person. Someone to really look up to.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:04:45] Yeah. Quite a character. Quite a character. He is. Um, so anyway, back to our topic today. We. This question of nature and nurture has been an important one. And I think this idea that we might be born with some [00:05:00] temperament or individual differences has been around really for thousands of years.

And yet around the time that that Jerry Kagan started his research, which was, you know, after world war II, kind of in the fifties, um. Things were really leaning strongly toward the side of nurture in that debate. I think that there’s some good reasons for that related to world war II. I think we all wanted to think that in the right environment everything would be okay and that there weren’t these sort of inborn differences between people. And Kagan even started his work really wanting to take a look at the nature side of the debate at the role of the environment. But he was really convinced by the data that there are inherited biological temperaments that play a strong role in development as well. And. What we mean by temperament is that it’s kind of a stable biological, emotional reaction that appears early in life and is partly influenced by genetics.

And what the [00:06:00] thinking is, is that there are a lot of different forms of temperament, like a lot of different forms of variation that we have biologically, but that there are some specific ones that have been better researched than others. And the one that Kagan’s really. Groundbreaking longitudinal research was on is this idea of how emotionally responsive people are to unfamiliar things that they encounter in the world.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:06:25] Yeah. And so that’s, that’s sort of like our response style that shows up really early and infants right. Yeah.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:06:30] Yeah. And so, and this is where, uh, Kagan’s work comes in that along with his colleagues, including Nancy Snidman, who he worked with for decades and has coauthored tons of his research and who’s also a wonderful person that I just, yeah.

Loved back when I was in the Kagan lab. He did this longterm study where he followed kids over the course of time, and what he did was he took a look at these temperamental constructs. So starting at infancy at four months of [00:07:00] age, which was a very collec, um, a very thoughtfully selected window of time in infancy, he would have them come into the lab and they’d be in there with their parent, usually their mom, and, but then the mom would kind of step to the side and they would expose these four month old babies to novel stimuli.

So that included. Sounds that they weren’t familiar with, voices that they didn’t they didn’t recognize, making unusual sounds. Um, they would hang a colorful mobile in front of them, sort of a bright, stimulating one. They would even have them smell a little bit of butyl alcohol on a Q-tip. And so getting all this new sensory information.

And what they found is that some infants, about 20% of them, would have a pretty strong reaction to this, so some of them would cry, or at least they’d start making sounds, vocalizing, arching their backs, moving their arms and legs on, like, a [00:08:00] majority of the trials. So these were kids that were reacting.

And actually I’ll see if I can have find a link to some video footage of this because it’s pretty striking to see, like they’re just sitting there calmly and then all of a sudden they’re exposed to this and they really react. So that’s about 20% that that really have a strong reaction. And he called Kagan, called these, the high reactive infants.

About a lot where somewhere in the middle where they might react to some of the, the stimuli, but not all of them. And then about 40% were just like sitting there chilling out. They were exposed to the same thing, but they, they’d be interested, like they’d look at the mobiles, you know, they, you could tell they’re paying attention, but they’re just like.

Not moving much. They’re not distressed. They’re just hanging out. Right. So he called them the low reactive babies. So

Yael Schonbrun: [00:08:50] like 20% are high reactive. So they sort of had this strong reaction to novel stimuli, and then 40% are really low reactive. So they have very [00:09:00] little. Right. Novelty.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:09:02] Okay. Yeah, that’s right.

And these are in a population of Caucasians in the East coast of the United States. And I think that’s important because there might be some sort of cultural and genetic differences where this might not always look the same, but he had kind of a homogenous sample to do this research. But this, this has been replicated.

Other people have done similar work and found kind of similar, um, profiles. Okay. Yeah. So, so that’s, that’s interesting. But then where it gets really interesting is that is following these babies over time. So they came back in at age two back into the lab, and again, would have them be in an unfamiliar room around unfamiliar people.

So they have sort of new people come in objects, for example, like are. Radio-controlled robot that was moving around, or new toys or people were walking in doing kind of weird things. [00:10:00] And what they found is that some kids, they call them the inhibited kids, would be a little bit more fearful.

They would be less likely to approach a novel toy. They would be basically acting more inhibited around strangers. And just in this situation, they were less talkative. They were just acting a little bit more fearful. And those tended to be the more kids who are more high reactive in infancy. So they hadn’t been seen in all that time in between, but it was sort of the trend.

Those who had been low reactive, you know, the ones just chilling out in their seat the whole time. They tended to be. Just a little bit more at ease in this unfamiliar situation. So there, you know, just a little more comfortable showing they’re more likely to approach novelty. They just weren’t as acting as a afraid.

Same thing at age four. They came back in the low reactive infants were spontaneous and just kind of socializing with a psychologist who did a [00:11:00] cognitive test, they’re just chatting with them. Um, the ones who had been high-reactive were, quiet, shy, and timid. So. This kind of, and it wasn’t like a perfect correlation, but it was just the overall tendency is that they were much more likely to show this pattern of behavior.

Jerry Kagan would joke that the low reactive, uninhibited is the one who had stayed stable throughout those, that period of time. He called them the Clint Eastwood’s where. They would just be sort of cool under pressure. You know, they’re in this kind of funny situation. Um, and they just be like, you know, they’d be interested, but they would just not be having a super strong emotional reaction.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:11:41] That’s so funny. I like that.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:11:43] Yeah. Clint Eastwood’s,

Yael Schonbrun: [00:11:45] what did he call the high reactive?

Debbie Sorensen: [00:11:47] I don’t know if he had a similar name. I can’t remember. But yeah, these are, you know, again, these are the ones that just like this kind of situation is a little more, um, you know, it’s kinda. Giving them a bit more of an emotional reaction.

[00:12:00] Yael Schonbrun: [00:12:00] It’s so interesting that those kinds of response styles really do seem stable over time. And I hear you that the correlation isn’t perfect, but it’s interesting to think about sort of at like at infancy, if you’re highly reactive or you’re low reactive, that that tendency is likely to carry through throughout your childhood and perhaps even beyond that.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:12:20] Yeah, yeah. And it does. So they, they had them come in, um, kind of showing similar patterns that age seven, 11, and even into adolescence and beyond. And you know, it’s not exactly the same thing as introversion or shyness or social phobia, but there is a relationship there. And again, like, you know, we’re saying that it wasn’t perfectly predictive.

It wasn’t, they’re not exactly the same thing. Things change over time, but there is this overall trend and, and I think that the way that kagan describes it as that temperament sort of constrains who we’ll become later. So it’s not totally predictive, but it maybe puts a little bit of a constraint on it, right?

Like the Clint [00:13:00] Eastwood type is probably not going to end up being the really introverted social. Socially phobic person and vice versa. You know, someone who is extremely high, reactive and inhibited is pretty unlikely to, to totally swing the other direction.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:13:16] Yeah. So getting back to your original question of like nature versus nurture, it does sound like he’s finding some evidence for nature, but that he’s sort of.

Really putting it in the context of how nurture can really influence the trajectory. So it’s like you start in one particular place with a certain set of characteristics and there’s somewhat malleable, but, but the character of core characteristics have some stability.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:13:39] Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

That’s right. And, and they, there is some stability and it is one factor and I think it gets overlooked. But then when you think about what goes into an emotion, and the main emotion we’re talking about here is really around fear, fear of novelty. Basically it’s a product of the biological.

[00:14:00] Predisposition, but also the context, the person’s history, et cetera. So it’s extremely complicated how it’s going to show up as an adult or even in just one given emotional situation. But it is going to be sort of a tendency overall though, that we’re kind of wired differently from, you know, from the get go and that that is going to also have an influence on how we, how we feel emotions and how we perceive the world.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:14:24] Yeah, and certainly like from the outside of somebody who’s having that experience, like what we observe in the people that we’re close to so yeah,

Debbie Sorensen: [00:14:32] absolutely. Well, and one thing that, that they also looked at in Kagan’s lab is the biological underpinnings to try to understand what’s going on here.

And what’s interesting is that some of the biological markers actually seem to be a little bit more predictive than some of the overt behavioral stuff. And you think about it, what might be happening sometimes is that the underlying. Biology, you know, [00:15:00] something’s happening. Like we’re reacting inside, but our overt behavior may or may not show it.

So it gets harder and harder to maybe observe with consistency. But if you slap some electrodes on or put someone in an MRI, you can see some patterns suggestive that this is kind of, um. There’s still some different type of emotional process happening inside. So that’s

Yael Schonbrun: [00:15:22] put it reminds, me of a patient that I’ve seen who has described that he can look like somebody who’s very social and comfortable in social situations, but that it’s not his preference.

And in fact, he’s pretty uncomfortable, but it’s sort of like a learned skill. But if you were to sort of, you know, put on some electrodes, you might be able to know where you might not be able to recognize his discomfort just from the outside.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:15:44] Yeah, absolutely. Inside, you may not be showing it, but there might be a lot of reactivity reaction happening.

Right, right. Yeah. So biologically what they think is happening is that it’s related to different levels of excitability in the amygdala, and the [00:16:00] amygdala is the part of the brain that’s part of the limbic system, and it’s basically considered to be kind of the fear center of the brain, and it’s related to the arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, which is your flight or fight or flight system.

So basically some people are going to have a little bit more physiological arousal when they’re exposed to novelty, and that makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:16:24] Yeah. And what, what kind of research did you do in Kagan’s lab?

Debbie Sorensen: [00:16:28] So for my dissertation, I saw a sample of these kids in early adolescence, and I looked at whether they were cognitively attuning more to threat- related stimuli. So, were their minds kind of interpreting things as threatening more.

And my results were a bit mixed, but we did find in a couple of the tasks that we did that that seemed to be the case. And which reminds me of the, the idea of threat sensitivity that Hope Arnold recently talked about when she was talking about over control, but that some people in their [00:17:00] environment are just attuned to threat happening.

Like they might walk into a room and see the one potential danger or they might interpret something as dangerous where the as other people might not, and that likely also has a bit of a, a relationship to this idea of high reactivity or behavioral inhibition. So they’re slightly different. But the, that there does seem to be some overlap there.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:17:23] That’s so interesting. Cause I think as a psychologist I always think of that is really nurtured, driven, um, in terms of how sensitive you are to cues of threat. Um, so it’s interesting to think about. I mean, cause obviously we’re all. Biologically wired to, uh, look scan our environments for threat.

But I always think of folks who are sort of higher on that threat sensitivity as being more, having had like more difficult experiences or are having a cognitive style that’s more like nurture driven, um, to, to land them in that position. So that’s interesting to think about biology underpinning it.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:17:58] Yeah, and I think it’s probably, I mean, in [00:18:00] reality is probably a little of both. It’s probably a combination of the environment and temperament. I think, you know, Kagan was well aware of that, and I think you see that in his writing that he, he doesn’t claim that temperament is the only thing going on, but also that it is part of the, part of the equation and one that perhaps we don’t always pay enough attention to because we tend to think of it as completely nurture.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:18:26] Yeah. Well, that’s an interesting thing when you sort of take it back. So I have three kids and they, my two older ones are more temperamentally similar to one another and that they’re shyer and a little bit quieter and a little bit less comfortable in new situations. And my youngest is extremely outgoing and very uninhibited, and people often, and, and maybe to some extent, I have in the past, attributed it to birth order.

But what I also know is that he’s been that way pretty much since day one. So this conversation really makes me sort of rethink a lot [00:19:00] of his characteristics because they have been so stable since the get go. He was from very, very early, very vocal and socially engaged, and my older two were kind of the opposite on that, on that front.


Debbie Sorensen: [00:19:13] It is interesting to watch your own children because I think because I did my dissertation research on this, I was pretty attuned to it with my kids, and I definitely have one kid that I would say was a bit of a Clint Eastwood.

She was low, reactive, uninhibited as an infant. She was just like, she’d be like, ah, interesting. You know? She would just be chill in new situations and she has always been sociable. She would walk up to strangers, start chit chatting, and has always been like that. She loves adventure. She loves doing new things.

I think she gets actually kind of bored easily with routine and she’s been consistently like that. And then my other child has, was definitely, I think, a bit more reactive and inhibited. And to this day just she’s just [00:20:00] can be a little quiet and reserved and kind of like seems to be pretty routine and comfortable and isn’t super gung ho on meeting tons of new people.

So it’s, and that’s been consistent, although I have to say context matters a lot. And, and people are more complicated than this because I was at parent-teacher conferences and the, and my Clint Eastwood got the comment that she’s a little quiet and she’s in a big public school classroom where there’s a lot of kids.

And in that particular situation she gets a little bit, um, more reserved and so, and then my more inhibited child can also be really sociable and loud in certain settings. So it’s, it’s quite complicated. Yeah.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:20:39] Yeah, I’m, I’m just sort of thinking to the, cause my oldest is my, my most inhibited kiddo.

But he, when he, he recently went to a play date at a friend’s house and the father was like, I’ve never met a kid who talks so much, but it was because he was really comfortable and he had a lot to say about the topic that they were discussing. And so, yeah, it is really complicated. It’s not like you, if [00:21:00] you’re a more.

High reactive, inhibited person that you’re going to be that way in every setting that you know, the setting really does. Um, change maybe that the out outside behaviors and sometimes, and as I was sort of referring to with the patient that I saw, um, it can be very intentionally changed, right?

Is if you decide that a setting requires more outgoing kind of behavior, even if you don’t feel that comfortable, you may choose behaviors. Even those that wouldn’t naturally come.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:21:28] That’s right. Yeah. And you can kind of work on it, and over time, you know, you can adapt either way, either direction, right?

Yeah. Yeah. Well, one other, a sort of controversy related to this nature nurture question is that there’s been some debate in the debate in the field about the relative contribution of temperament and attachment. And attachment is, like, a really important construct too. And one of the main ways that attachment has been.

Studied in a lab setting is with the [00:22:00] Strange Situation test. Have you seen this, Yael? I remember doing it and some of my class work and also watching videos of it, do you remember that from back in the day?

Yael Schonbrun: [00:22:09] I do, and it actually, it kind of sounds pretty similar to some of the ways that Kagan studies temperament and his lab study temperament in his lab

Debbie Sorensen: [00:22:18] Yeah, it’s definitely a little bit similar. So what they would do is they would have kids that were a little older than Kagan’s infants. They’d be between about nine and 18 months old, come into a strange room with their parent, and after a while, a stranger would enter and start talking to the parent.

And then. Approach the infant, then the parent would leave leaving the infant with the stranger, and then the parent would come back in, then completely leave the infant all alone, and then come back in for the final reunion. And so what they would look at is how the child responds to the stranger.

And to be left alone with the stranger. And then especially how the child would respond to the [00:23:00] reunion with the mother. And so anyway, what they would do then is use this strange situation test as a measure of attachment. So based on how distressed the child is when left with a stranger, and then how quickly they can be soothed by their parent, uh, when the parent comes back and.

What Ainsworth Mary Ainsworth, who originally did the strange situation assumed is that this is a measure of how attached the child is to the mother. And she classified the child in categories like securely attached, anxious, avoidant, anxious, anxious, ambivalent, or resistant and disorganized.

And so. Kagan was actually a critic of looking at this way of measuring attachment because of the fact that it doesn’t account for temperamental differences. Right.  So you could imagine that the Clint Eastwood types might not be that distressed by the whole situation, whereas another more inhibited or high reactive child would be very distressed by the [00:24:00] situation.

And then they also might have a hard time soothing because they had a very strong physiological reaction. And so again, it may or may not have anything to do with the. Quality of the attachment relationship with the parent, they could be very securely attached and maybe not appear that way in the strange situation.

And so the way I heard Kagan talk about this a lot is that attachment is a real thing that definitely happens and has an impact on us. We’re just not very great at measuring it because it’s so complicated. It interacts with other factors like temperament. And so we might be doing a bit of a disservice if we are trying to gauge something like securely attached or insecurely attached without taking these other factors into consideration because it’s quite complicated.


Yael Schonbrun: [00:24:46] And that it’s so interesting in the context of couples therapy. Um, their attachment theory is actually really important and there’s, um, in Emotion- Focused Therapy is really based on understanding how people [00:25:00] attach in the context of close relationships. And so thinking about how we attached early caregivers and then how that might relate, um, to how we attach to our primary romantic partners in adult life is, is this really important way that we can help people, uh, make their relationships more healthy. And so when you think about it in the context of understanding that there’s also these temperamental differences that underlie how we attach, it’s really, it sort of does bring a lot of nuance because, um, you know, even if you have this sort of fraught relationship with your partner, it may not just be because of the way that you interact with one another, it really may be, come down to sort of physiologically what’s going on with each of you individually and what it is that, um, how it is that you react when you have conflict and bringing that into the room as well as understanding sort of how you interact with one another. So sort of looking at the individual experience as well as the relational experience, I think could really strengthen how you figure out [00:26:00] how to heal, you know, relationships that are struggling.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:26:03] Right? It’s like you both could add information that could be helpful for a couple. Yeah, and, and I think that’s true, like both attachment and temperament are really worth considering in clinical work in terms of understanding people and their patterns. I do think one downside, if we focus exclusively on attachment without considering temperament factors is that it can lead to this sense of sort of blaming the parents that it’s all your parents’ fault because you didn’t, they didn’t attach well enough or something like that.

And I think as a mom, that can lead to worry, like if you think that everything in life kind of goes back to early attachment and your child’s having an issue later, you’ll think, oh, I must’ve messed something up. I must have done something wrong. And so it’s kind of that fear that parents could get into in the sense of, you know, blaming the parents, um, when in fact, that’s just one of many factors.

[00:27:00] Yael Schonbrun: [00:26:59] Yeah. And you and I have talked about Alison Gopnik’s book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, and I love this idea because it really does get to this sense that we as parents have of, we’re so responsible for helping our kids become X, Y, or Z kind of person. But what she, what she discusses is that while we like to think of parenting as carpentry, sort of, we make something from scratch and we have some idea of what we want it to look like at the end.

That parenting is actually more like gardening, where we have a seed and sometimes we don’t even know exactly what kind of a seed it is. And our, our power to influence the seed’s development is more about giving the seed what it uniquely needs, rather than, you know, getting to determine whether it’s a Rose or a Fern or an Oak tree, right, that we don’t necessarily have the power to make that determination, but we can.

Figure out what it is that our child uniquely needs based on, to some extent, their temperament, which is, [00:28:00] which is why this conversation is so important.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:28:04] That’s right. I think if you understand this, it can help you have an appreciation for your unique child and have less the sense of like, I have to do X, Y, Z, so that I end up with this particular result, versus like, I’m going to nurture this kid.

Right? It’s like, let’s like a different way to look at it. And I, I’m, even if I do my best job of, you know, planting this doing just the right conditions for this, as if there was a “right” condition, but even if I did the right conditions for this particular seed, there’s just so many factors that we can’t completely predict how things are going to turn out.

And, and I think a question that comes out a lot is, is whether it’s possible for people to change over time. So for instance, if you have a high reactive, behaviorally inhibited child, can they become, you know, less introverted as an adult?

And I think what I [00:29:00] would say to that is that temperament is just one piece of the puzzle and the environment and learning history matters. So. You know, people change over time and what you want to do is just do your best job to kind of help your child be flexible and able to respond to a variety of situations.

So what comes to mind when I think about my knowledge of the parenting literature is this idea we’ve talked about on the podcast before from John Gottman of sort of emotion coaching your child and helping them learn skills like being brave and courageous in new situations or in social situations.

So emotion, emotion, coaching. So like teaching them about fear and challenging them a little bit and helping them learn to be current, courageous so that your child doesn’t end up having social phobia. I mean, again, you can’t really predict completely what’s going to happen, but you’re doing your best to encourage them to learn the skills, to be able to adapt to a lot of the situations.


Yael Schonbrun: [00:29:58] Right. And one other [00:30:00] thing that I like to think about too, in the context of this temperament discussion is maybe even working. One of the things that we can do as parents or as friends or as partners, is shift our view of what it means to be high reactive and inhibited versus low reactive and more uninhibited.

That one is not necessarily better or worse than the other. They’re just different, and each has strengths, and, and, um, you know, areas that maybe work less well in certain contexts. And one of the books that I love and I love for personal reasons, cause I am, um, in a family with some high introverts.

Um, but also I’ve used it a lot in my clinical practice is Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking because she, she discusses a lot of the history of extroversion and points to how our culture has really, um, and more and more progressively valued extroversion.

And she even has chapters titled “the rise of the mighty likable [00:31:00] fellow” and “the myth of charismatic leadership” and she offers a lot of evidence, um, of how. The way that we view extroversion as a strength and introversion as a weakness can really cause a lot of stigma for a, for a temperament that that is, isn’t sort of, you know, inherently good or bad.

And in fact, society hasn’t always viewed these two temperaments in, in these kind of ways. Um, introversion, you know, decades ago, it wasn’t. Seen so negatively as it is now. And she also talks a lot about the research showing that introverts are neither fragile nor weak.

Um, and so I think for a lot of reasons, it’s, it’s helpful to kind of take a step back and just appreciate the temperament for what it brings.

And I do think that it’s important as parents and partners and individuals to work towards more psychological flexibility. Cause we know how important that is for mental health and life satisfaction, but also to just get more in a, in a position of accepting whatever the [00:32:00] temperament is that we are the people that we love were born with.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:32:03] Absolutely. Just appreciating your child or your, you know, your partner or friend or whoever as a unique person and that, you know, there may not be a need to change. As our friend friend of the podcast, Kelly Wilson says, viewing other humans as a sunset, not a math problem, right?

So there’s gifts of introversion and to appreciate those instead of feeling like it’s something that needs to be changed.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:32:30] Absolutely.


Debbie Sorensen: [00:32:31] When you think about the kind of family dynamics and the parent child relationship with Temperament, developmental psychologists talk about this idea of the goodness of fit and how what you really want is a good match for the unique person that your child is with the environment. And I think what you’re speaking to, Yael,  is that sometimes it can be a challenge if the parent doesn’t, not just share the child’s temperament, but understand it or if they’re very different, or if the [00:33:00] environment isn’t really a good match for what that particular child needs.

And so that’s why I think it is pretty important for people to understand this idea so that they can maybe do the best to set up the environment for success for the child so that it’s something that will work well for them. And of course, that’s a challenge when you have multiple kids with multiple temperaments.

But just the sense of like if you, the first step is to kind of understand your child and to know them as a person, right? And what their needs are.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:33:30] Yeah. It reminds me of an incident again with my oldest child who’s, who’s quite shy in new situations or, and was very, very shy when he was even younger. And I have this powerful memory of taking him to a birthday party where he didn’t know many of the other little guests very well.

And he said. Stayed off to the side the entire time and basically didn’t engage with anybody. And I was, I was so worried about him and his happiness and his lifelong success because it, he just didn’t look like the other kids. He was so disengaged [00:34:00] and I was explaining my worry to my spouse who’s also very introverted, and he asked me.

But, but was he unhappy at the party? And I realized that my child actually wasn’t unhappy. He was sort of playing to the side pretty content and just doing his own thing. And it was really my own worry that linked back to myths about introversion and how damaging introversion could be for life happiness and success, and that I had bought.

Into that myth wholeheartedly without questioning it. And it really helped me to sort of, and it wasn’t so much a goodness of fit between me and him, but sort of my anxiety about his goodness of fit into society. But once I was able to take a step back and say he’s okay the way he is, it sort of opened us up.

And interestingly, I do think that he’s evolved over time to become more confident. And he still is temperamentally. More inhibited, but he is confident in, therefore, he can be more flexible. So he still is inherently a quieter kid, but he’s, um, he can, once he’s comfortable in a [00:35:00] social situation, he’s, he’s pretty engaged.

So it’s kind of an interesting, um, way to look at his evolution, but also to appreciate that it is, um, that we have some influence, but the influence can come from an accept a place of acceptance.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:35:16] I like that. Just sort of accepted who they are and not making any assumptions that it’s a big problem.

Right, right.   Yeah. So part of what we do as parents is to try to, to validate and to accept and to meet the needs of our children. And another area where you see this come out in clinical work is with Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Marsha Linehan’s biosocial model.

And she talks explicitly in that model about how some people are temperamentally dispose, predisposed to have inherited a high level of emotional reactivity. And they happen to be in an emotionally invalidating environment. And what can end up [00:36:00] happening in extreme versions of this is that people don’t really learn how to regulate their emotions.

And according to Linehan, this is the basic model of how someone might end up with a pattern of borderline personality disorder where they have sort of unstable relationships and a lot of extreme emotions and not necessarily have the skills to be able to adapt to those emotions in sort of a helpful way.

So you can even see temperament ideas and this idea of the fit between the, the environment and the temperament showing up in some of these clinical frameworks.



Yael Schonbrun: [00:36:38] . So all of this conversation about temperament and how some of these ways of being high reactivity versus low reactivity, inhibited versus uninhibited, and how those characteristics are really stable from birth and beyond. Um. Kind of makes me wonder what, what do you, what do you see for, and what does [00:37:00] research identify as being the difference between temperament versus introversion and extroversion, which are considered to be more personality traits?

How, how do they differ from one another?

Debbie Sorensen: [00:37:11] That’s a great question. And we’ve seen so far that there is some overlap, right? Between temperament and introversion and extroversion, but they’re very different constructs. So introversion/extroversion is considered to be more of a personality style or a personality trait.

Which are just more enduring traits that people have over time. And introversion/ extroversion is considered one of the big five, so it’s a pretty obvious one and pretty robust in the research, but it includes, it’s just the stable pattern over time, and it includes both biology and temperament as well as the environment and sort of life experience.

So personality. You don’t really get a sense of until later in life. And it’s a lot, in some ways, a lot more [00:38:00] complicated because there’s a lot more involved in it. Um, and there’s some different ways of looking at introversion and extroversion. If you look into this, you know, there’s like the big five factors of personality, and then there’s more like Jungian types of ideas about introversion and extroversion.

So. It kinda depends, your framework. But in general, we think of introversion as being about having a preference for less stimulating environments. So people who are extremely introverted, they find large social groups and new situations and new experiences to be stressful and not very enjoyable.

So for instance, they might need a day to recover after they go to a party with a whole bunch of new people that they don’t know. So it’s just sort of exhausting and draining. It’s different from shyness or social phobia because it’s not necessarily about fear. They’re not necessarily afraid of social [00:39:00] situations.

It’s just more how has more to do with how they kind of respond to it and whether it’s something they find enjoyable or. Draining. And it’s important to know the introverts can have really strong social skills. They can be great in relationships. They just might have a preference to have, you know, coffee with one or two friends versus big night out on the town.


Yael Schonbrun: [00:39:22] Yeah. I was just gonna say, and I’ve heard it like, you know, really pithily described as what kind of settings do you find yourself becoming re-energized through? So an introvert might be re-energized through time alone or with very small groups or very close friends, whereas an extrovert may find energy rejuvenating from larger groups or parties and things like that.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:39:45] That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. Like how do you, what, what fills your soul with a sense of like, ah, that felt good. Right. It’s, it’s also important. It’s also kind of surprising that some public figures can be introverted, that [00:40:00] you might not guess.

I was actually listening to an interview between Oprah and Amy Schumer, and they both identified themselves as introverts, which is so shocking, especially for Amy Schumer. Yes. She’s up there on stage, Oprah, millions. everyone knows who she is, but they both actually prefer, they need a certain amount of quiet time and they get kind of overstimulated.

Isn’t that interesting?

Yael Schonbrun: [00:40:22] That’s really interesting.

Debbie, what are you, are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Debbie Sorensen: [00:40:27] I’m actually leaning. I’m in the middle. I’m sort of in the middle range, but I am, I’m leaning toward extroverted, which I think I didn’t realize for a long time. I thought, cause I was a little bit shy as a kid and I actually think I’ve gotten more extroverted over time, but I realized about myself is that if I’m, I always think I want more time to myself because I’m, you know, busy and a mom, and there’s always people around me. But then when I have too much time to myself, I get a little. I get the blues, you know? Yeah. Yeah. And I even, at one time I noticed, I [00:41:00] was like, Oh, this is amazing.

I get a hotel room by myself. It’s like the Holy grail when you’re a parent. And then I would, I’d be like, maybe I’ll go down and get some tea in the lobby and you see who’s out, what’s happening down there. You know? I was like, I think that’s an extrovert thing. how about you?

Yael Schonbrun: [00:41:17] I remember in Susan Cain’s book, she describes that her most productive place to work is in a coffee shop where she’s not actually engaging with people, but she’s sort of surrounded by people, um, that there’s something that it feels really energy energetically helpful for her about being surrounded by people while not being engaged directly with them, which is kind of an interesting thing.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:41:40] I’m definitely,

Yael Schonbrun: [00:41:41] yeah, I’m definitely an introvert who can. Um, look like an extrovert. And people who don’t know me that well are often surprised that, um, I am an introvert, which I don’t, it’s not like I talk about it that much, but, um, when it comes up in conversations, um, because I can do fine at a party or in a large [00:42:00] social gathering, but, um, but it does really wear me out and I’m just, I’m a lot more comfortable and definitely get my energy, my battery recharge from time alone or with my family or very close friends.

Debbie Sorensen: [00:42:13] Yeah. I mean, I think that’s really similar to what a lot of people is that they, they may not look at on the surface. Right. So they can even be in leadership positions, et cetera. They just might not be, they might have an overall preference for those quieter moments and sort of calm. Calm settings, right?

Whereas an extroversion is the opposite. There are people who really enjoy new people in social settings and they tend to just sort of plunge in and take risks and be bold and kind of find that rejuvinating rather than exhausting. Yeah.

Yael Schonbrun: [00:42:49] And as I was talking about before, it’s kind of interesting from a cultural perspective, what, what we value or what we think of is good versus bad.

That in our culture, [00:43:00] somebody who is outgoing and who’s really charismatic is seen as, you know, preferable. Whereas somebody who, you know, prefers time alone and, and quietness and ref deep reflection may not be seen as, um, being as successful or, or sort of, um, you know,


Debbie Sorensen: [00:43:17] Yeah. I mean, I think it’s, it is sort of undervalued in the U S I don’t think that’s true in every culture though.

I think so. For instance, in some Asian cultures or more, you know, places maybe even like Scandinavia where the vibe tends to be a little bit less focused on individual sort of boisterous individuals kind of thing, that, that they might be a little bit more pro. An introverted style might be a bit more prized.

Well to kind of tie it all together. I think both introversion and extroversion have their upsides and. These temperamental and personality constructs might be helpful to be aware of in yourself and your children and your relationships. And while sometimes you might want to stretch outside of your comfort zone to try to be more flexible in how you respond, [00:44:00] it’s also important to capitalize on your strengths.

You know, find a career that’s a good fit for your, your level of desire for stimulation or show up in ways where you can be authentic in whatever it is that you’re doing. Um, so we can all just appreciate having this wide range. Like it wouldn’t be fun if we had all extroverts or all introverts in the world.

We need, we sort of need all of the above.