Industrial Psychiatry Journal

: 2019  |  Volume : 28  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 58--62

Relation between temperament dimensions and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms

Nidhi Chauhan1, Ruchita Shah2, Susanta Padhy2, Savita Malhotra2,  
1 Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh, India
2 Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Ruchita Shah
Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh


Introduction: The relation between temperament and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is complex and understood in different ways, with the most common being risk model and spectrum model. However, the evidence is mixed and emerging. Aim: To assess the relationship between ADHD symptoms and temperament dimensions in a clinical sample of school-aged children. Methods: A retrospective assessment of temperament of 50 children with ADHD was done on temperament measurement schedule. The mean and standard deviation was computed for continuous variables and frequency and percentage for discontinuous variables and correlation and regression analysis was computed. Results: Children with ADHD were high on activity level, intensity of reaction, approach, and distractibility and low on persistence and threshold of responsiveness. The strength of significant correlations between temperamental dimensions and ADHD symptoms (P < 0.05) ranged from 0.32 to 0.41. On regression analysis, temperament could explain 22% variance of inattention subscale and around 20% variance in hyperactivity/impulsivity subscale. Conclusion: This moderate level of relation suggests that though certain temperamental traits are related to symptoms of ADHD, temperament and ADHD are phenotypically separate constructs, further favoring the risk model.

How to cite this article:
Chauhan N, Shah R, Padhy S, Malhotra S. Relation between temperament dimensions and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms.Ind Psychiatry J 2019;28:58-62

How to cite this URL:
Chauhan N, Shah R, Padhy S, Malhotra S. Relation between temperament dimensions and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Jun 7 ];28:58-62
Available from:

Full Text

Temperament or the unique and innate psychobiological characteristics in children present since birth[1],[2] have been considered important in the development of psychopathology.[3] The relation between temperament and psychopathology has been explained in two major ways: first, temperament as a risk/vulnerability factor for later psychopathology and second, temperament and psychopathology lie on a continuum or spectrum; i.e., the disorder is a severe form of temperament.[4] Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood-onset, neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity with significant impairments in functioning in various domains.[5] Studies have demonstrated the presence of “difficult” or high maintenance temperament characterized by higher levels of emotionality, activity, and negative affect and lower effortful control in individuals with ADHD.[6],[7],[8] These temperamental dimensions when characterized as problem behaviors are similar to symptoms of ADHD.[7] Associations have been demonstrated between temperament and ADHD mainly in adults and adolescents[4],[6],[9],[10],[11] and recently in children with ADHD.[3],[7],[8],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16] Hence, some authors have asserted that ADHD can be considered as an extreme temperament type, i.e., the continuum hypothesis.[6],[8],[17],[18],[19] On the contrary, there is growing research that considers temperament as a risk factor for ADHD.[3],[4],[20],[21] In midst of these somewhat contradicting theoretical positions, the direction and magnitude of relation between temperamental dimensions and ADHD may help.[21],[22] In this background, we explored the relation between temperament and ADHD in a clinical sample of school-aged children.


The study was carried out in child and adolescent psychiatry clinic, department of psychiatry of a tertiary care hospital in North India. It was approved by the institutional ethics review committee. It had a cross-sectional study design. Fifty children aged between 4 and 14 years diagnosed with ADHD as confirmed by Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview for children and adolescents[23] were recruited using purposive sampling. Children with moderate-to-severe intellectual disability (intelligence quotient of <55 on a standardized measure), autism spectrum disorder, seizure disorder, organic brain syndrome, and those not giving assent/consent for the study were excluded. Written informed consent from parents and assent from the children (the latter whenever possible) was obtained before recruitment.

Temperament was assessed using the temperament measurement schedule (TMS),[24] which is an Indian adaptation of Thomas and Chess Temperament Questionnaire.[25] TMS is a parent interview schedule that measures temperamental traits retrospectively. It provides information about nine temperamental dimensions, namely, approach withdrawal, adaptability, threshold of responsiveness, mood, persistence, activity level, distractibility, and rhythmicity. Each temperamental dimension is assessed on the basis of 4 or 5 questions, scored from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating absence and 5 indicating maximum level of manifestation. Five factors are derived from these nine dimensions, i.e., Factor I – sociability (consisting of dimensions of approach-withdrawal, adaptability, and threshold of responsiveness), Factor II – emotionality (mood and persistence), Factor III – energy (activity level and intensity of reaction), Factor IV – distractibility, and Factor V – rhythmicity. Conner's Parent Rating Scale-Revised: Short Form (CPRS-R: S)[26] was used for assessment of severity of ADHD. CPRS-R: S has been used in earlier studies rendering the findings of this study comparable to existing literature. Sociodemographic and clinical details were recorded in structured formats. Parents were interviewed using the TMS for retrospective assessment of temperament during infancy and they were requested to rate the CPRS-R: S.

TheIBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 20.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp. Released 2011. was used for statistical analysis. Means and standard deviation were calculated for continuous variables, and frequency and percentages for discontinuous variables. Correlation matrix and analysis was carried out to assess correlation of TMS with CPRS-R: S. Linear regression analysis by stepwise method was conducted to measure for the variance in ADHD subscale scores as assessed by CPRS- R:S explained by temperament dimensions as measured by TMS depending on the results of correlation analysis.


The sociodemographic and clinical profile of the children is presented in [Table 1].{Table 1}

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptom severity as assessed by Conner's parent rating scale-revised: short form in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Children with ADHD had scores toward maximum in symptom domains of inattention, hyperactivity, and combined type, indicating that these children had moderate-to-severe level of symptoms. [Table 1] depicts the severity of ADHD symptoms in children with ADHD as assessed by CPRS-R: S.

Temperament of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as measured by temperament measurement schedule

The temperamental characteristics of children with ADHD as measured by TMS are depicted in [Table 2]. Children with ADHD scored high on the energy factor (4.01 ± 0.72) followed by distractibility factor (3.7 ± 1.0) and had a low score on the emotionality factor (2.73 ± 0.92). They were found to score highest on activity level (4.1 ± 0.80) and least on threshold of responsiveness (2.25 ± 1.1).{Table 2}

Relation of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms as measured by Conner's parent rating scale-revised: short form and temperament as measured by temperament measurement schedule in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Inattention subscale of CPRS-R: S had significant positive correlations with temperamental dimensions of approach-withdrawal (i.e., higher on approach), adaptability, and activity level and the energy factor. Hyperactivity subscale had a significant positive correlation with activity level and energy factor. ADHD index had a significant positive correlation with temperamental dimensions of approach-withdrawal and activity level and energy factor. None of the other temperamental dimensions had significant correlation with any of the subscales of CPRS-R: S. The relation between temperament as measured by TMS and ADHD symptoms as rated on the CPRS-R: S in children with ADHD is shown in [Table 3].{Table 3}

Variance of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms as explained by temperament

Stepwise linear regression was calculated to predict inattentive subscale scores based on approach, activity level, and adaptability. Energy factor was not taken into account while computing regression analysis as activity level (which has significant correlation with ADHD subscales) is a subcomponent of energy factor. A significant regression equation was found (F (1, 48) =7.703, P < 0.01), with an R2 = 0.138 with approach alone as an independent variable, and (F (2, 47) =6.203), with an R2 = 0.209. Stepwise linear regression was calculated to predict hyperactivity subscale scores based on activity level. A significant regression equation was found (F (1, 48) =11.872, P < 0.01), with an R2 = 0.198. On conducting stepwise linear regression to predict ADHD index scores based on activity level and approach-withdrawal, a significant regression equation was found (F (1, 48) =9.012, P < 0.01), with an R2 = 0.158 for activity level alone. Thus, 13%–21% of variance in ADHD symptoms as measured by CPRS-R: S was explained by temperament. Temperamental dimensions of approach withdrawal explained 21% of variance for inattention. Activity level explained 19% and 15% variance for hyperactivity and ADHD index, respectively [Table 4].{Table 4}


Our study explored the relation between temperament and ADHD in a clinical sample of children and adolescents. Till recently, there were only few studies in this area, and our study adds to the growing literature.[10],[11],[12],[14],[27]

Our children scored higher than average on activity, intensity of reaction, distractibility, and approach temperamental dimensions, while they had scored lower on persistence and threshold of responsiveness. Thus, these children were temperamentally “always on the move, jump (s), rather than walk (s),” had extremes of reaction (roaring with laughter or very angry/annoyed), had difficulty attending to task at hand, being highly distractible along with difficulty in persisting at task, easily bothered by noise, pain, temperature, and other sensory perceptions. They also “went and talked spontaneously, rushed into new places, spontaneously touched or held things.”[28] Such a temperament profile is similar to the “high maintenance temperament” described by McClowry[17] and characterized by high activity, negative reactivity, and low task persistence. Similar findings have been reported earlier by different authors using different temperament assessment schedules based on different models of temperament.[8],[21],[22],[24],[29]

In the present study, the inattention subscale, hyperactivity subscale, and ADHD index of CPRS-R: S had a significant positive correlation with temperamental dimensions of activity level and energy factor comprised of activity level and intensity of reaction. Also, inattentive children tended to be high on approach and were easily adaptable. Temperamental dimension of 'high approach' is characterized by eagerness, readily seeking new experiences with curiosity and openness but reacting impulsively. Hence, it consists of elements in common with high surgency and low effortful control of Putnam and Rothbart[30] Child Behavior Questionnaire. High surgency comprises high activity level, high-intensity pleasure seeking, low shyness, and impulsivity. Low effortful control is characterized by poor inhibitory control and low attentional focusing. High surgency has been found to be associated with inattention and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms of ADHD and low effortful control with hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.[19] Nigg et al., 2002, Nigg et al., 2004, and Martel et al.[4],[21],[22] found that the latter was also associated with inattentive symptoms or subtype of ADHD, as seen in our study. Lemery et al.[20] had also reported association between activity level, attentional focusing, inhibitory control, and behavioral symptoms of inattention and impulsivity. Foley et al.[8] had also reported that all three subtypes of ADHD were strongly associated with high activity, high impulsivity, high negative reactivity, and low task persistence and higher approach primarily with hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms.[21] Thus, the findings of the present study are consistent with those in literature.[4],[8],[19],[20],[21]

In the present study, strength of significant associations between temperamental dimensions and ADHD symptoms (at P < 0.05) ranged from 0.32 to 0.41. This moderate level of relation suggests that though certain temperamental traits are related to symptoms of ADHD, temperament and ADHD are phenotypically separate constructs. Moreover, on regression analysis, temperament could explain around 22% variance of inattention subscale and around 20% variance of hyperactivity/impulsivity subscale. Earlier studies have also reported modest associations between temperament and ADHD.[8],[20] Our study in conjunction with the previous studies suggests that there is an association, but not identity between ADHD symptoms and key temperament domains, as proposed by Nigg et al.[21] In such a case, temperament may be considered as a risk or vulnerability factor for ADHD, with early deficits in regulation disrupting effortful control[21] and leading to ADHD symptoms in interaction with environmental variables[27] or executive functioning.[14]


To summarize, modest associations were found between temperament dimensions and ADHD symptoms, and temperament explained less than a quarter of the variance, indicating that temperament is a vulnerability factor for ADHD.

The present study has several limitations. First, the sample size is small, thus increasing the chances of Type 1 error. Hence, Bonferroni's correction was applied. Second, a major limitation is that the study had a cross-sectional design and the subjects had comorbid disorders; hence, causal inferences cannot be drawn. Also, temperament assessments were done retrospectively and are vulnerable to recall bias. Longitudinal study design with prospective assessments, though difficult would be ideal.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1Chess S, Thomas A. Origins and Evolution of Behavior Disorders. New York: Bruner/Mazel; 1984.
2Rothbart MK, Bates JE. Temperament. In: Damon W, Eisenberg N, editors. Handbook of Child Psychology: Social, Emotional and Personality Development. 5th ed., Vol. 3. New York: Wiley; 1998. p. 105-76.
3Forbes MK, Rapee RM, Camberis AL, McMahon CA. Unique associations between childhood temperament characteristics and subsequent psychopathology symptom trajectories from childhood to early adolescence. J Abnorm Child Psychol 2017;45:1221-33.
4Nigg JT, John OP, Blaskey LG, Huang-Pollock CL, Willcutt EG, Hinshaw SP, et al. Big five dimensions and ADHD symptoms: Links between personality traits and clinical symptoms. J Pers Soc Psychol 2002;83:451-69.
5American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Text Revision. 5th ed. Washington (DC): American Psychiatric Press; 2013.
6Clark C, Prior M, Kinsella G. The relationship between executive function abilities, adaptive behaviour, and academic achievement in children with externalising behaviour problems. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2002;43:785-96.
7McIntosh DE, Cole-Love AS. Profile comparisons between ADHD and non-ADHD children on the temperament assessment battery for children. J Psychoeduc Assess 1996;14:362-72.
8Foley M, McClowry SG, Castellans F ×. The relationship between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and child temperament. J Appl Dev Psychol 2008;29:157-69.
9Braaten EB, Rosen LA. Emotional reactions in adults with symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pers Individ Dif 1997;22:355-61.
10De Pauw SS, Mervielde I. The role of temperament and personality in problem behaviors of children with ADHD. J Abnorm Child Psychol 2011;39:277-91.
11Bouvard M, Sigel L, Laurent A. A study of temperament and personality in children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Encephale 2012;38:418-25.
12Halperin JM, Healey DM. The influences of environmental enrichment, cognitive enhancement, and physical exercise on brain development: Can we alter the developmental trajectory of ADHD? Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2011;35:621-34.
13Nigg JT, Willcutt EG, Doyle AE, Sonuga-Barke EJ. Causal heterogeneity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Do we need neuropsychologically impaired subtypes? Biol Psychiatry 2005;57:1224-30.
14Rabinovitz BB, O'Neill S, Rajendran K, Halperin JM. Temperament, executive control, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder across early development. J Abnorm Psychol 2016;125:196-206.
15Park H, Suh BS, Lee HK, Lee K. Temperament and characteristics related to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Compr Psychiatry 2016;70:112-7.
16Einziger T, Levi L, Zilberman-Hayun Y, Auerbach JG, Atzaba-Poria N, Arbelle S, et al. Predicting ADHD symptoms in adolescence from early childhood temperament traits. J Abnorm Child Psychol 2018;46:265-76.
17McClowry SG. The temperament profiles of school-age children. J Pediatr Nurs 2002;17:3-10.
18Rettew DC, McKee L. Temperament and its role in developmental psychopathology. Harv Rev Psychiatry 2005;13:14-27.
19Martel MM, Gremillion ML, Roberts BA, Zastrow BL, Tackett JL. Longitudinal prediction of the one-year course of preschool ADHD symptoms: Implications for models of temperament-ADHD associations. Pers Individ Dif 2014;64:58-61.
20Lemery KS, Essex MJ, Smider NA. Revealing the relation between temperament and behavior problem symptoms by eliminating measurement confounding: Expert ratings and factor analyses. Child Dev 2002;73:867-82.
21Nigg JT, Goldsmith HH, Sachek J. Temperament and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: The development of a multiple pathway model. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol 2004;33:42-53.
22Martel MM, Nigg JT. Child ADHD and personality/temperament traits of reactive and effortful control, resiliency, and emotionality. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2006;47:1175-83.
23Sheehan DV, Sheehan KH, Shytle RD, Janavs J, Bannon Y, Rogers JE, et al. Reliability and validity of the mini international neuropsychiatric interview for children and adolescents (MINI-KID). J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71:313-26.
24Malhotra S. Temperament measurement schedule. In: Child Psychiatry in India: An Approach to Assessment and Management of Childhood Psychiatric Disorders. Chandigarh: Publisher Macmillan; 2002.
25Thomas A, Mittleman M, Chess S, Korn SJ, Cohen J. A temperament questionnaire for early adult life. Educ Psychol Meas 1982;42:593-600.
26Conners CK, Sitarenios G, Parker JD, Epstein JN. The revised conners' parent rating scale (CPRS-R): Factor structure, reliability, and criterion validity. J Abnorm Child Psychol 1998;26:257-68.
27Miller M, Iosif AM, Young GS, Hill MM, Ozonoff S. Early detection of ADHD: Insights from infant siblings of children with autism. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol 2018;47:737-44.
28Malhotra S, Basu D, Bhagat A, Malhotra A. Temperament of children of addicts. J Hong Kong Coll Psychiatr 1993;3:5-8.
29McClowry SG. The development of School Age temperament inventory. Merrill Palmer Q 1995;41:271-85.
30Putnam SP, Rothbart MK. Development of short and very short forms of the children's behavior questionnaire. J Pers Assess 2006;87:102-12.