Temperament May Make Learning Easy As A, B, C, Says UF Researcher

Published: October 22 1996

Category:Education, Family, Research

GAINESVILLE — Temperament plays a major role in how children learn, says a University of Florida researcher who has found differences in personality type by race, age and gender.

Not only do such factors as whether children are extroverts or introverts influence their learning styles, but they also may ultimately affect student success in the classroom, said Thomas Oakland, a UF education professor.

“It’s not unusual for a teacher to tell parents Your son doesn’t seem to have many friends. Have you ever considered taking him to a psychologist to see what’s wrong?’” he said. “Having one good friend is perfectly natural, though, if the child is an introvert.”

Oakland designed an easy-to-use survey that measures personality type as defined in a popular psychological test for adults and administered it to more than 7,000 children nationwide. The students were randomly sampled in proportion to their numbers in the 1990 U.S. population census for race, age, gender and section of the country in which they live.

Widely used by adults in workplaces and educational institutions, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator explains a person’s psychological makeup along four dimensions. Extroverts generally derive energy from others, while introverts do so from within. People with a practical bent like to get information through facts, while imaginative people rely upon theories. Thinkers make decisions with logic, while feelers use personal, subjective standards. Organized people like structure in life, while flexible ones prefer more freedom.

If teachers knew this information, they would know which students would benefit from class discussions or working alone, for example, or short assignments as opposed to in-depth projects, Oakland said.

He believes personality type may give clues why some children adjust to school more easily than others. Although there are many reasons students drop out of school, Oakland found in his study that blacks, who have a higher drop-out rate than whites, are more likely than whites to base their decisions on thinking’ rather than feeling’ styles. Thinkers’ value honesty even if it hurts the feelings of others, while people with a feeling’ orientation are more inclined toward harmony, he said.

Students who are feelers’ are more likely to be accepted in school than thinkers’ who may question authority, Oakland said. ” Feelers’ are more accommodating, and school systems, like all systems, prefer people who are accommodating,” he said.

Oakland said the results are somewhat surprising because blacks are thought to succeed by accommodating. “The general impression is that the African American who survived periods of slavery is the African American who followed the master’s suggestions,” he said. “It suggests that those who survived are more inclined toward feeling.’ But our findings contradict that.”

In other study results:

*Children between ages 8 and 13 gradually become more extroverted. After 13, the balance gradually restores, with some youths introverts and others extroverts.

“These findings make sense because young people in early adolescence often turn their backs on their families and pay more attention to their peers,” Oakland said. “That’s what extroverts do, they look to others for sources of direction.”

*Children aged 8 to 11 like more structured lessons, while teens between ages 14 and 17 prefer greater flexibility in how material is presented. “It’s really quite dramatic how children start out wanting their lives to be very organized and as they become older become more confident of themselves and their environment,” Oakland said. “By age 15 the trend is very distinct. They don’t want many rules or regulations imposed.”

*Blacks and Hispanics generally prefer a practical approach to instruction, which generally focuses on facts and smaller details, while whites are more inclined to an imaginative style, dealing with theories and broad details.

*Boys are generally inclined toward practical styles and girls toward imaginative ones.

Oakland believes the study raises interesting questions about the effects of tailoring education to different learning styles. For instance, he said, “Would girls be more likely to become engineers if the material was presented in a more theoretical than practical fashion?”


Cathy Keen

Category:Education, Family, Research