Understanding the Anxious Mind

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In 1989, Jerome Kagan, a professor of psychology at Harvard, had just begun a major longitudinal study of inborn temperament and its long-term effects, a study that would eventually include 498 children and would follow them from infancy to young adulthood. He suspected that some of the four month olds in the study would respond to their environment more intensely than other babies did, and that their “high reactive” nature would play out in the way they grew up, causing them to become high-strung, shy, and prone to anxiety. Eager to test his hypothesis, he observed videotapes of the first fifty babies in the study, looking for high-reactive infants. The first eighteen babies looked perfectly ordinary. They gazed calmly at things that were unfamiliar, babbled when their mothers spoke to them, and stared at a mobile cluttered with dancing Winnie the Pooh characters. In response to these stimuli, the babies moved their arms and legs a bit, but mostly they just watched placidly and occasionally smiled. Baby nineteen was different. Kagan describes her as in constant motion when exposed to the same stimuli. When her mother spoke to her, she moved her arms and legs fitfully. When the face with discordant voices appeared, she moved even more, and had a furrowed expression on her face. The Winnie the Pooh mobile caused her so much distress that she arched her back when it came into view. This is what Kagen was looking for but was not sure he would find: a baby who was distressed when exposed to anything new. All study subjects had home interviews when they were fifteen and begins with questions about school and outside interests. Baby nineteen does little in the way of extracurricular activities in her high school. She fidgets almost constantly, one part of her body or another always in motion-twirling her hair, touching her ear, jiggling her knee, wringing her hands. Kegan says this is how she regulates her high-reactive nature and is a perfect model of his hypothesis...
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