Electrodermal activity and temperament in preschool children


Address reprint requests to: Don C. Fowles, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


This study had two objectives: To examine poorly understood patterns of young children's electrodermal reactivity and to test the hypothesis that this reactivity reflects individual differences in the behavioral inhibition system (BIS). We recorded skin conductance responses (SCRs) from 92 4-year-old children during a laboratory session that encompassed physiological and psychological stimuli. Physiological stimuli (breaths), moderately loud to loud sounds (expected and unexpected) and, to a lesser extent, stimuli with psychological significance elicited clear SCRs. Induction of psychological conflict and exposure to emotional film clips for the most part did not elicit increases in skin conductance (SC). Children's temperament dimensions of fearfulness and effortful (or inhibitory) control—two components of the BIS—were assessed using robust observational batteries at age 2 and 4 years. The theoretically expected correlations between overall SC lability (reflecting SC levels) and both dimensions of temperament were significant, albeit modest and limited to the contemporaneous measures at age 4.