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About Temperaments

Temperament is Not the Same as Character

Temperament has nothing to do with a person’s character or their level of maturity. It is what a person is apart from problems. Here is my definition: “Temperament is a cluster of inborn traits that causes you, in part, to do what you do. ”


Temperament is Not a “Type”

A distinction needs to be made between a “trait” and a “type.” “Types” are considered to be categories into which a person may either fit or not fit. For example, a person could be seen as either an extrovert or introvert.


Temperament Represents a Cluster of “Traits”

The four temperaments are represented by four distinct groups of “traits” or tendencies. Each cluster of traits produces a distinct manner of behavior that is different from the other groups. For example, the Choleric cluster of traits differs widely from the Sanguine cluster of traits and, each will demonstrate different behavior. The Phlegmatic and Melancholy have their own unique cluster of traits that also differ widely from each other.

Each trait can be placed on a continuum from low expression to high expression. For example, one may possess the trait of being social to a high degree, moderate degree, or almost not at all.

The temperament model does not embrace the type approach to behavior. Types are restrictive and narrow in their scope, and they do not leave room for different degrees of expression or development by an individual. Allport stated, “A man can be said to have a trait, but he cannot be said to have a type, rather he fits a type.”

The temperament model embraces the trait approach which allows for a particular trait to be possessed and developed to varying degrees.

Temperament, therefore, represents natural traits or tendencies with which a person is born. How well these natural traits are developed depends on the individual’s motivation. Work ethic and a person’s purpose/passion in life are also important factors in how the traits or tendencies benefit the individual.


Temperament is What a Person is Most of The Time

Temperament represents the way a person relates to others and responds to events. It is what you have observed and expect someone’s behavior to be, most of the time.

Perhaps you have referred to someone as “shy” or “outgoing.” Without realizing it, you were referring to certain temperament traits. These traits are what you know and expect the person to be every time you are with them. Temperament behavior is, for the most part, predictable. The exceptions being, as Dr. Geier pointed out when one temporarily experiences strong emotions such as anger or fear, or one is trying to deceive another. Actually, acting is a form of acceptable deception. A person is knowingly acting like they are someone else. Unfortunately, some purposely act like someone they are not in order to deceive. When this occurs, it is difficult to determine their temperament.

Society would not be able to exist if behavior was not basically predictable. Imagine what life would be like if everyone were different every time you met them. Imagine the chaos. Without consistency in people, without predictability, society simply would not survive.


Temperament is a Force

Temperament is a force within that represents various traits or tendencies that produce an urge, drive, and appetite. Whatever temperament is, it is acting as a force that urges, even drives a person to act in a particular manner.

As an appetite or void, temperament is something that requires satisfying. The obvious example is when you are hungry you have a need to be satisfied and to fill the void. So you eat, and when you do you are satisfied, the void is filled, and you are no longer hungry. Temperament is that way. It pushes or urges you to behave according to the tendencies that represent your temperament blend.

For example, there are those who are natural people-people. They enjoy being with, around, or just standing by others. They like to talk, have fun and be active with others. There is a force within that person that urges them to do this. Ask one with this social bent and they will tell you, “I just want to be around people.” Conversely, there are those who are private in nature and they prefer not to be with, around or by others. There is an equal force within them that urges them to avoid contact with others. Both are normal and both have a push inside to actually act according to their natural tendencies.


Temperament is a Need

Temperament represents inherent needs. Let’s use Abraham Maslow’s definition of need. He says that a need is something that if you do not have, you get sick. Air, food, and water are physical needs without which anyone, of course, would become ill and even die. Temperament is a need, but one will not, of course, die without the needs being met.

Temperament is, however, a need which drives or motivates a person to act according to their natural, innate tendencies. If the needs are not met, the individual will not feel well about themselves or function efficiently

A temperament need represents what is important and highly desirable in the core of an individual. A need is a drive that urges one to behave in such a manner until it is fulfilled. Meeting temperament needs is critical to a person’s feeling of self-worth and sense of value.

Let’s use the sociable temperament (Sanguine) as an example again. As a people-person, they enjoy being with, around or standing by others. They also enjoy talking. Being with people and talking are needs. If this person is not with, standing by or talking to people on a regular basis, they simply will not feel well about themselves. They feel better when they are engaged in some social activity. This is just one of the four temperaments, and the others will have specific needs as this one, but all will be different from each other. The needs represented by the four primary temperaments are natural and normal, and each person is driven to have those needs met.

Everyone, therefore, should provide adequate satisfaction for their “temperament needs” in order to be at their best. For example, Cholerics need to see quick results; Sanguines need to be with people; Phlegmatics need a stable environment; Melancholies need a detailed plan.

The History of the Temperament Concept

The idea that behavior is related to a person’s natural tendencies or temperament has been around for at least 2,400 years. There have only been a handful of men that have contributed significantly to the development of this concept.

HIPPOCRATES (470?-360? B.C.). Throughout history there have been many attempts to explain why people are different. One of the first systems developed was Astrology, which looked outside of man to explain the differences. There were twelve “signs” symbolized by earth, air, fire and water. Hippocrates, however, looked inside of man to explain the differences. He believed that behavior was determined by the presence of an excessive amount of one of four fluids or humors; yellow bile (Chlor); red bile or blood (Sangis); white bile (Phlegm); black bile (Melan). These four humors were thought to be related to the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. Hippocrates, and other early Greeks, thought that an excess of one of the four humors produced a particular temperament and behavior.

The word “temperament” comes from the Latin word temperamentum and means right blending. The Greeks thought that a person’s “temperament” was therefore made up of a blending of these four fluids.

  1. An excess of yellow bile resulted in a temperament believed to be warm/hot and dry, and associated with the element of fire [Choleric].
  2. An excess of red bile resulted in a temperament believed to be warm/hot and wet, and associated with the element of air [Sanguine].
  3. An excess of white bile resulted in a temperament believed to be cool/cold and wet, and associated with the element of [Phlegmatic].
  4. An excess of black bile resulted in a temperament believed to be cool/cold and dry, and associated with the element of earth [Melancholy].

Hippocrates and the early Greeks were accurate in their observations of behavior but were incorrect about the origin of these tendencies (they are not created by the excess of a fluid). Today we would say that they originate from some genic predisposition, although we cannot be certain


GALEN (129? – 203?) was a physician, who lived 600 years after Hippocrates and was responsible for popularizing the temperaments during his time and relating them to illness. He is credited with coining the terms, Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Melancholy.


IMMANUEL KANT (1724 – 1804) described the four temperaments in his book, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 1798.


NICHOLAS CULPEPER (1616-1654) was the first to dispute two fundamental concepts that had existed since the time of Hippocrates. First, he rejected the idea that the four “humors” were the cause of a person’s temperament. Secondly, he was the first to say that a person is influenced by two temperaments, one primary and one secondary. Before Culpeper, it was believed that a person had only one temperament.


WILLIAM M. MARSTON (1893-1947) was the first to contribute scientific evidence that people fit into one of four categories. He published Emotions of Normal People in 1928 using the terms: Dominant, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. Marston studied the emotions of normal people because research had centered around the emotions of abnormal people during his era. He observed behavior and identifie invention of the systolic blood-pressure test which led to the creation of the lie detector. He also created the cartoon character, Wonder Womed thirty-five words or phrases that characterized four people according to their emotional response to a favorable and unfavorable situation. A little known fact is that Marston was responsible for than.


OLE HALLESBY contributed penetrating insight into the behavior of the four temperaments in his book, Temperament And The Christian Faith, in the 1930’s using the terms, Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Melancholy.


JOHN G. GEIER built on the works of William M. Marston (1928), Walter Clarke (1940) and John Cleaver (1950). Walter Clarke developed the Activity Vector Analysis using the four dimensions of Aggressive, Sociable, Stable and Avoidant. John Cleaver created a 24-question forced-choice instrument from the work of Walter Clarke.

John Geier, building on the works of Marston, Cleaver and Clark, was the first to develop (by factor analysis) an instrument that identified an individual’s behavioral style (temperament blend) and identified 15 classical patterns. These are patterns that frequently reoccurred on his instrument. Dr. Geier developed the Personal Profile System instrument in 1958 and eventually formed the company Performax to market the materials to the business community (early 1960’s). His DiSC profile enabled business companies to build a more effective team and match a person’s natural tendencies to a specific task. He used the terms: High “D” (Dominant); High “i” (Influencing); High “S” (Steadiness); and High “C” (Competent).


TIM LAHAYE was the first to popularize the concept to the Christian community. Dr. LaHaye published the first of several books in the late 1970’s using the terms, Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Melancholy.


HANS J. EYSENCK wrote Personality and Individual Differences, A Natural Science Approach, in 1985. Dr. Eysenck has written other books on the subject including, The Biological Basis of Personality (1967).


Others have contributed to the temperament model of behavior, using different terms, including, Plato (350 BC), Paracelsus (1530), Adickes (1905), Spranger (1914), Kretschmer (1930), Adler (1937), Fromm (1947), Myers (1955) and Keirsey (1970).

Fundamental Concepts

    1. Everyone has traits of all four temperaments.
    2. Everyone is a combination of two temperaments, one primary and one secondary.
    3. Each temperament has natural strengths and weaknesses.
    4. Strengths and weaknesses represent both temperaments.
    5. Strengths and weaknesses vary in degrees of intensity.
    6. Traits can be developed because everything is a choice: 
      • Choose to develop your natural strengths.
      • Choose to control your natural weaknesses.
    7. Temperament is developed according to a person’s response to the variables in their environment such as:
      • Early Home Environment
        We need consistent love, discipline, and praise. We do not need to be
        compared, condemned, or criticized – which often has an adverse effect
        on the development of a healthy self-image.
      • Peers 
        Those we associate with have strong influence upon the development
        of our beliefs, and value system.
      • Where You Were Reared
        The geographical location in the USA or foreign country where you
        were reared has great influence on what you think is right, good
        and normal.
      • When You Were Reared 
        Each decade seems to have a unique set of issues that exert strong influence
        upon individual development. These issues help form our beliefs and values.
      • Education
        It is not just the amount of education you obtain, but what schools you attend
        that is important. Educational institutions differ widely in beliefs and values.
      • Groups
        In general, beliefs and values are developed from association with schools,
        churches, clubs, etc.
      • Gender
        Males and females are motivated, in part, by different needs. These
        motivations cause us to respond differently to our environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. From where do we get our temperament?

(A) People are born blank (tabula rasa): Some believe that people start life as a “blank slate” (tabula rasa) and that the environment determines personality. (B) Temperament is inborn: This theory suggests that a person is born with a basic personality type, and that the inherent traits are developed according to that person’s response to their environment. Actually, ask any mother that has raised at least two children, and chances are that she will tell you that they were different from the beginning. For example, one child may have been very friendly and smiled at everyone; whereas, the other was always frightened when strangers were present.


  1. Will my basic temperament change?

No. It is possible, however, to behave in a way that does not represent your temperament, but this will always be temporary. A situation may require that you behave in a way that is not natural for you to act, but when the need has passed, you will once again act in a way that represents your temperament.


  1. Is there a “best” profile, temperament?

No. It is not a matter of “best,” but difference. It does not matter what temperament you are. What matters is what you do with what you are. Someone has said; “It’s not the size of the dog in the bite, it’s the size of the bite in the dog!” No matter what your temperament is, you can achieve as much success as your desire and natural abilities will allow. In becoming successful, however, your behavior will represent your basic temperament.


  1. Are temperament and personality the same?

No. They are many factors that make up the total personality of a person. Temperament is only one of the many parts.


  1. Can any temperament be a leader or manager?

Yes. Each person will lead differently depending on their temperament. Notice: Cholerics and Sanguines will lead by inspiration. Phlegmatics and Melancholics will lead by example.


  1. How do all the different terms used for referring to the temperaments correlate?

Over the years many different terms have been used to refer to the four temperaments. The most frequently used terms are Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Melancholy and DISC. I prefer using Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Melancholy. See how some of the others terms correlate.