What is Temperament?
John T. Cocoris,
Temperament is often confused with personality. Personality is the total of
what a person is, whereas temperament is but one part, although an important
part. Temperament, from Latin, means "right blending" representing that the
early Greeks thought a person was a blend of four fluids. Today we
understand that a personís temperament represents various traits that are
observable in everyday behavior.
Temperament is Not The Same as Character.
Temperament has nothing to do with a personís 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" each
demonstrating 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
individualís motivation. Work ethic and a personís purpose/passion in life
are also important factors in how the traits or tendencies benefit the
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 someoneís 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 was 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
Temperament is a Need.
Temperament represents inherent needs. Letís use Abraham Maslowís 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
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
personís feeling of self-worth and sense of value.
Letís 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.
© 2006, John T. Cocoris
About John Cocoris