Pathways from infancy to adolescence

Pathways from infancy to adolescence

Australian Temperament Project 1983-2000

Margot Prior, Ann Sanson, Diana Smart and Frank Oberklaid

Research Report No. 4 — November 2000
Pathways from infancy to adolescence

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This publication tells the story of the Australian Temperament Project. It provides a concise digest of the many studies within the project, which is designed for readers wishing to access an overview of our research from infancy to adolescence. At the end of each section we indicate (by number) the published papers from the project which report more detail on each topic. References for these papers are listed at the end of the book.

The Australian Temperament Project is a longitudinal study of the psycho-social development of a large and representative sample of Australian children born in Victoria between September 1982 and January, 1983. (By 'longitudinal', we mean a study of a particular sample group of people over a long period of time.) Our team of researchers, specialising in psychology and paediatrics, from the Royal Children's Hospital, LaTrobe University, and University of Melbourne, has followed the growth of these children, so far up to the age of 17-18 years. Our aim has been to trace the pathways to psycho-social adjustment and maladjustment across their lifespan.

Putting the story together in this form was motivated by our feeling that the families whose loyalty has made this research possible deserved an account of the insights gained from their regular contributions. In addition, we needed an overview of the research for the many researchers and colleagues who ask about the project, and request information about our measures and methods.

The story begins with an explanation of temperament, why it is important and how it is measured. We document the early stages of recruiting the sample of children and their families participating in the research. The following sections summarise the findings from the many studies which examine the relationships between temperament and a variety of developmental outcomes.

A major theme throughout has been the influence of child temperament on emotional and behavioural adjustment; investigating questions such as 'how well does temperament in infancy predict adaptation at pre-school age', for example. We have also examined differences in significant domains of development between boys and girls. A further long-term interest of this research has been learning progress at school, and how this affects, and is affected by psycho-social adjustment. Problems which have developed in a small proportion of the children, such as having a chronic illness, aggressive behaviours, attention deficits and hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, and problematic substance use, have been measured over time. This has allowed us to track the pathways in their development from the early years through to adolescence, and to identify some of the short and longer-term influences on outcome.

It is equally important to understand the factors in children, and in their environment, which can contribute to the growth of competence and socially skilled behaviours. Hence we have also analysed the factors that lead to social, psychological, and academic competence in the children as they develop, with a particular focus on temperament. The question of what helps children to remain resilient and coping well when challenge and adversity arise in their environment is also part of this research.

In the more recent years of the life of the project, many individual children have written to us and sent poems, drawings and photographs of themselves. With their permission, we include a selection of these personal contributions.

In the final part of the report, we summarise the main contributions of the Australian Temperament Project and suggest how this research will be valuable in furthering our understanding of the ways in which social and emotional development may be enhanced in children. In particular, this story teaches us much about the role which temperament plays in intra and inter-personal development across the span from infancy to adolescence.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Professor Margot Prior is Director of Psychology at the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, and is a member of the Departments of Paediatrics, and of Psychology, at the University of Melbourne. She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia. Formerly a professional musician, she began her career in developmental and clinical Psychology in the 1970s, and has taught Psychology at LaTrobe, Monash and Melbourne universities. She has published books on Learning Difficulties, and on Hyperactivity, as well as many book chapters and papers in international journals. She is regularly invited to speak at national and international conferences. She has held visiting Research Fellowships at the Universities of Padua, Italy; London, UK; Oregon, USA; and Otago, New Zealand.

Associate Professor Ann Sanson is the Principal Research Fellow leading the Children and Parenting research program, and Acting Research Manager, at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. She is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Melbourne, where her teaching and research have been in the areas of developmental psychology, developmental psychopathology and conflict resolution. She has published numerous book chapters and papers in international journals and been invited to speak at national and international conferences. She is a fellow of the Australian Psychological Society, and has had leadership roles within the Society, including terms as Vice-President and Director of Social Issues. She is a member of the Committee for the Psychological Study of Peace, and has acted as a consultant for the Christian Children's Fund in conflict situations (for example, East Timor and Kosovo.

Mrs Diana Smart studied Psychology at the University of Melbourne, completing a Master of Arts degree and Diploma of Education. She held positions in the Victorian Department of Education's Curriculum and Research Branch and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's Education Unit before joining the Australian Temperament Project in 1988 as the Research Manager. Since that time she has overseen the day-today running of the project and managed the various data collection waves. She has presented results from the study at national and international conferences and published papers in international journals.

Professor Frank Oberklaid is the Director of the University of Melbourne's Centre for Community Child Health, located at the Royal Children's Hospital. He is an internationally recognised researcher, the author of two books, numerous book chapters and over 100 scientific papers on various aspects of paediatrics. In addition to undertaking editorial duties for a number of international journals, he is the Founding Editor of a series of five national child health publications directed to general practitioners, pharmacists, community nurses, hospitals and child care centres. Professor Oberklaid has received state, national and international awards, lectureships and visiting professorships, including a Medal in the Order of Australia in 1998.

Colleagues who have played valuable key roles in particular aspects of the research programme include Associate Professor John Toumbourou, Centre for Adolescent Health, at the Royal Children's Hospital, who joined our research team in 1996 and has had a major impact on the direction of our research over the adolescent years; Associate Professor Eleanor Wertheim, Professor Ray Over, and Professor Doreen Rosenthal, all from LaTrobe University; and Dr Jill Sewell and Dr Rick Jarman from the Royal Children's Hospital and Professor Anthony Jorm and Professor Simon Easteal from the Australian National University.

The study has been funded over the years through grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council, and the Royal Children's Hospital Research Institute.

We have also received grants from the Departments of Psychology at LaTrobe University, and the University of Melbourne; the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation; and the Education Department of Victoria.

A major contribution to the research has come from postgraduate students from LaTrobe and Melbourne Universities who have joined the project team to carry out their masters or doctoral research. Their studies have been invaluable in adding to the richness of the data we have amassed over the years.

Without the loyalty and commitment of the families in the project, of course, we would not have this story to tell. We thank the parents, the young people and their teachers for their efforts.

Publication details

Research Report
No. 4
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, November 2000.
Suggested citation:

Prior, M., Sanson, A., Smart, D., & Oberklaid, F. (2000). Pathways from infancy to adolescence: Australian Temperament Project 1983-2000 (Research Report No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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