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Research Sheds Light on the Affects of Child Temperament on Adult Health

“We are more prone to believe that the children who are quiet and reserved are in need of the most help, but that’s not the case. The kids that are more interactive and externalizing need attention as well, but in a different way.” – Jake Miller

Jake Miller, a student graduating in Public Health, has been conducting research on how child temperament affects adult health.

Jake Miller, a senior studying public health with an emphasis in epidemiology, has conducted research on the impact of childhood experiences on adult health with Dr. Ali Crandall, professor of public health in the College of Life Sciences. Crandall’s research explores adverse childhood events (ACEs), such as divorce or violence in the home, and their negative impact on children and their future health. Most recently, Crandall and a group of students, including Miller, published research on how the effects of ACEs can be mitigated through positive experiences, known as counter-ACEs.

Miller’s involvement in this research sparked a curiousity about child temperament and the role that extroversion and introversion play in response to childhood experiences. Drawing from a theory developed by Dr. Thomas Boyce, emeritus professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, Miller formed a foundation for his own research. Miller compares extroverted children to Boyce’s description of “dandelion children,” those who are resilient and adaptable to change and events that occur around them. He then compares introverts to Boyce’s “orchid children,” those who are far more sensitive to their experiences and surroundings. However, Miller’s research findings indicated that the opposite is true; extroverted children are more sensitive to their surroundings and they should be given more careful attention, especially in adverse situations.

Research compares children's temperaments to dandelions and orchids.
Photo by Unsplash, Johannes Plenio

Miller and a small group of students sent out a survey through Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) to gain greater insight into adult health as a product of childhood experiences. Participants were asked questions about positive and negative childhood events, whether they identify as a lifelong introvert or lifelong extrovert, and about their current adult health, including depression and stress levels.

Survey results revealed a strong correlation between childhood experiences and adult health among extroverts. Findings suggest that extroverted children are more sensitive to events and experiences, positive and negative, than introverted children.

This research hits close to home for Miller: “I grew up super introverted, like insanely quiet, around people. I remember when I was growing up, people told me to act differently. That’s why the chance to understand personality and how it contributes to health outcomes on a deeper level is meaningful to me.”

Understanding how temperament affects a child’s reaction to different environments and their lifelong health is valuable for parents, teachers, and other adults interacting with children. Although more research is required to understand factors that increase environmental sensitivity among more extroverted children, this is an important discovery that could have a positive impact on children and adults alike.