Saturday, February 27, 2010


Periodically in Christian, non-Christian and popular self-help literature a book on temperament surfaces. I have read a couple of these books and have found them at least moderately useful in assessing myself and understanding a bit about my strengths and weaknesses. The essence of temperament is a predilection or innate inclination toward certain attitudes and behaviors due to some inborn quality. Kind of a hard wiring of the human system predetermining personal qualities.

As a self-help tool it at least gives you some boxes into which to place yourself, wholly or in part, for the purpose of self-analysis and self-instruction. The whole thing does seem to have some validity, having a considerable history and having been studied in the field of psychology. That makes it at least a bit more tenable than astrological horoscopes for self-analysis and guidance. They both can be tools of self-analysis, with a "use at your own risk" disclaimer.

The idea of temperament does seem to go along with the idea of hard wired inclinations in humans. In essence, it is at least possible that some of our tastes and inclinations are built-in. They are somehow a part of our being, so much so that the analogy of hard wiring can be applied and understood. Like temperament and even astrology this analogy can best serve as a very generally guideline.

The whole thing also touches on the nature vs nurture debate. The complexity of studying such ideas is daunting, at least to me. How do you isolate nature (temperament) from the great many different influences that impact any given life (nurture)? Even if any authoritative research can be done, how will it be colored by various factions seeking to serve their own purposes?

I recall reading about research that indicated that some criminal behavior might be linked to certain genes. This was simply reported in the news, essentially as information acquired as a by-product of other genetic studies. The mere prospect of such research going forward had civil libertarians reacting. They did not support such research, recognizing that any supporting evidence regarding a genetic predisposition toward criminal behavior could have significant impact on the rights of individuals.

Some of the more scientific bloggers I read hold to a purity in science, that bastion of research. In an unadulterated form science is a wonderful tool for exploring and documenting the nature of the observable universe. Yet considering the previous paragraph, can such purity be maintained? Perhaps. However, it might also be lost in the smoke and mirrors and muddied waters created by factions serving their own agendas.

Addressing the matter of some predilections being built into humans prior to birth, I would present the long lived idea of temperament as informal evidence. Temperament can also serve as an informal guide for aiding children in education, and can be used by adults conducting self-exploration for the purpose of self-improvement.

Food for thought, but hardly a feast.

1 comment:

Harvey said...

If one observes the behaviors of our nearest "cousins" (great apes, chimps, bonobos, etc) it becomes abundantly apparent that they are born with "hard-wired" (instinctual) predilections that would seem to have survival value within the groups upon which they must depend for nurturing and eventual ability to procreate. Even if we do not choose to see that we humans are nothing more than (not so great)apes somehat further evolved because of greater intelligence and the ability to communicate verbally, to become aware of our group past, and to "imagine" a future, observation of our "cousins" can certainly supply us with a great deal of information about our own mental condition. Humans are born totally dependent upon the good will and nurturing "instincts" of our families and, eventually, our clans and tribes. Durng our maturation to adulthood, it seems clear to me that we initially make use of our inborn (evolved) predispositions, most of which lead to positive results in our developing "tribal" relationships. Some of them, of course, do not, and to a greater or lesser extent we learn to suppress and/or overcome these negative instincts (i.e. we mature or grow up). If we can accept this view, antisocial behavior (which I think is aptly named) is not the result of our inborn evolved instincts or predilections. Rather, it is the result of inability or failure to control these natural urges. I suppose that there may be individual variations in how overpowering some of these potentially negative drives may be, but the real issue behind "criminal" (antisocial) behavior would seem to be mostly a failure of "nurture" (maturation).