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Jerome Kagan was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1929. He earned his bachelor’s from Rutgers in 1950. Kagan went on to receive his Master’s from Harvard before he went to Yale, where he earned his Ph.D. in psychology in 1954. He moved to Ohio State University and took a position as a psychology instructor for a brief period before he transferred to West Point. After two years working as a psychologist at the Army Hospital, he went to the Fels Institute in Ohio where he worked in developmental psychology before he became the head of the Psychology Department at the institute. Kagan stayed employed with the Fels Institute for several years before he went to Harvard to join the faculty of their psychology department.
Kagan spent a large part of his career studying the effect of temperament on the behavior of children. He believed strongly that environmental factors influenced human development, but after finding little scientific evidence to support his belief, he began to examine the influence of biological factors. Kagan worked extensively with young children and discovered that the first two years of a child’s life are critical in the development of self-consciousness, memory, sense of morality, and symbolism. He explored areas of children’s fears and apprehension and studied how biological conditionals increase a child’s vulnerability to these emotions.
By examining children over time, Kagan was able to assess unique personality traits. He followed his test subjects from infancy through adulthood, evaluating specific traits at different periods. The sum of his research is revealed in Birth to Maturity, a work published with Kagan’s colleague Howard Moss. Kagan has written several other books and is a member of many organizations, including the New England Complex System’s Institute. He has been recognized for his achievements by the American Psychological Association with their G. Stanley Hall Award, the Society for Research in Child Development with their Distinguished Scientist Award, and also by the American Psychiatric Association with their Hofheimer Prize. Kagan is considered one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.
Contribution to Psychology
Kagan believes that a child’s behavioral and emotional construct; temperament, is influenced by genetic and biological conditions. He discovered that children possess two distinct temperaments, either uninhibited or inhibited. An uninhibited temperament, or low reactive, is evident in a child who is extroverted, outgoing, and wholly at ease in social settings. Inhibited temperaments, highly reactive, are present in guarded children and children who are hesitant, introverted, and cautious. Kagan realized that a child’s temperament directly influences their behavior later in life, relevant to their environment. This temperament determines a child’s later attitudes and their style of social interaction and interpersonal relationships. In addition to temperament, Kagan believes that other factors influence a child’s development, including family role, birth order, mentoring, and perceived value in the family construct. Kagan’s theories have been applied across several social arenas and have been used in the fields of child psychology, education, sociology, social psychology and politics.