The Temperamental Thread: How Genes, Culture, Time and Luck Make Us Who We Are

Jerome Kagan

Cloth • $24.95 • 248 pages 
ISBN: 978-1932594508
Published April 2010

Also available as an e-book



Temperament is the single most pervasive fact about us and our fellow travelers in life. We notice it; we gossip about it; we make judgments based on it; we unconsciously shape our lives with it.

In The Temperamental Thread, developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan draws on decades of research to describe the nature of temperament—the in-born traits that underlie our responses to experience. Along the way he answers such questions as, How does the temperament we are born with affect the rest of our lives? Are we set at birth on an irrevocable path of optimism or pessimism? Must a fussy baby always become an anxious adult?

Kagan paints a picture of temperament as a thread that, when woven with those of life experiences, forms the whole cloth of personality. He presents solid evidence to show how genes, gender, culture, and happenstance contribute to temperament as well as influence and shape a mature personality. He explains how temperament sets the stage for the myriad of personality variations, from the dazzling to the desperate, that we see all around us.

Temperament research, powered by the new tools of neuroscience and psychological science, will be an important source of tomorrow’s ideas, as well as enriching our understanding of others in every context, from our closest relationships to those in workplaces, schools, and even causal encounters. In a highly readable and enjoyable style, Jerome Kagan shows us how.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1:           Introduction: What Are Human Temperaments?

Chapter 2:           Reacting to the Unexpected

Chapter 3.           Experience and Inference

Chapter 4.           Temperament and Gender

Chapter 5.           Temperament and Ethnicity

Chapter 6.           Temperament and Mental Illness

Chapter 7.           What Have We Learned?

"Anyone who still believes that our psychological dispositions are due largely to our genes will learn a lot from this book. The same goes for those who think they are predominantly shaped by our environment. Jerome Kagan, an emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard University, has spent much of his career unpacking the complexities behind human personality and behaviour. In The Temperamental Thread he navigates a path through the conflicting evidence with great skill and eloquence."
    —Michael Bond, NewScientist


“In this marvelous book, one of the world’s most distinguished psychologists synthesizes cutting-edge research to illuminate how biology and environment jointly shape human psychology. The book reveals deep erudition, yet is written in an engaging and accessible style. Anyone keen to learn what science has revealed about human nature will be captivated.”
    — Richard J. McNally, Ph.D., Harvard University, Author of Panic Disorder: A Critical Analysis and Remembering Trauma 

 “An excellent read—highly informative and accessible. Jerome Kagan provides a broad overview of the importance of individual differences early in life in the formation of adult personality. The book encompasses the worlds of psychology, genetics, and neuroscience…in a manner that is readily understood to readers of varied backgrounds. In addition, Professor Kagan provides in-depth discussion of the influence of temperament on achievement and psychopathology.”
    — Professor Nathan A. Fox, University of Maryland-College Park

"Jerome Kagan, with his usual brilliance, separates the biology and psychology of temperament to unravel the complexity of why we act and react the way we do. If you want to understand why you or your child is anxious, easy-going, a worrier, compulsive, feels guilty or entitled and more, you must read Kagan’s discoveries about the brain’s role and the factors that influence it."
    — Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist, and author of Parenting An Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only.