Prenatal predictors of infant temperament

Elizabeth A. Werner, Michael M. Myers, William P. Fifer, Bin Cheng, Yixin Fang, Rhiannon Allen, Catherine Monk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Emerging data suggest that prenatal factors influence children's temperament. In 50 dyads, we examined fetal heart rate (FHR) activity and women's antenatal psychiatric illness as predictors of infant temperament at 4 months (response to novelty and the Infant Behavior Checklist). FHR change during maternal challenge was positively associated with observed infant motor reactivity to novelty (p = .02). The odds of being classified as high versus low motor among fetuses who had an increase in FHR during maternal stress was 11 times those who had a decrease in FHR (p = .0006). Antenatal psychiatric diagnosis was associated with an almost fourfold greater odds of having a high cry reactivity classification (p = .03). There also were modest associations between baseline FHR and maternal reports of infant temperament and between observed temperament and that based on mothers' reports. All of the infant results were found independent of the influence of women's postnatal anxiety. These data indicate that physiological markers of individual differences in infant temperament are identifiable in the fetal period, and possibly shaped by the prenatal environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)474-484
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Antenatal psychiatric illness
  • Fetal heart rate
  • Infant temperament


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