We hypothesized that personality change in children can be predicted by the interaction of family risk with susceptibility to autonomic arousal and that children characterized by both high-risk families and highly reactive autonomic nervous systems tend to show maladaptive change. This hypothesis was tested in a 6-year longitudinal study in which personality-type prototypicality, problem behavior, and negative emotional intensity were measured at 2-year intervals. The results indicated that children who both had exaggerated skin conductance responses (a measure of autonomic reactivity) and were living in families with multiple risk factors were most likely to develop an undercontrolled personality type and to exhibit increases in problem behavior and negative emotional intensity. The implications of the results for understanding personality change are discussed.
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