Temperament as a Moderator of the Relation Between Neighborhood and Children's Adjustment

A neighborhood’s problems (crime, graffiti, drug activity) and its level of social organizing (people feeling connected, having shared values) independently predict a range of positive and negative adjustment outcomes in children. Whether neighborhood aspects pose a risk or serve as protective factors depends on a child’s temperament and their sensitivity to neighborhood influences.

These researchers examined three temperament characteristics—fear, irritability and impulsivity—and sought to determine which of those made children more responsive to the characteristics of their neighborhoods.

To gather data, they interviewed an economically and racially diverse sample of Seattle children (grades 3 through 5) and their families. Among their findings:

  • Neighborhood problems were more strongly associated with higher internalizing for low-fear children than for high-fear children.
  • Neighborhood problems were more strongly associated with lower social competence for high-fear children than low-fear children.
  • Neighborhood problems were more strongly associated with lower social competence for children low in irritability than for children high in irritability.
  • Neighborhood social organization was more strongly related to higher social competence for low-fear children than for high-fear children.

In neighborhoods with higher levels of crime and disorder, fearful children may be more likely to either behave in a socially incompetent manner or avoid socialization and the enriching experiences it can bring.