This chapter is devoted to theories of temperament. Temperament
is that aspect of our personalities that is genetically based, inborn,
there from birth or even before. That does not mean that a
temperament theory says we don't also have aspects of our personality
that are learned! They just have a focus on "nature," and
leave "nurture" to other theorists!
The issue of personality types, including temperament, is as old
as psychology. In fact, it is a good deal older. The
ancient Greeks, to take the obvious example, had given it considerable
thought, and came up with two dimensions of temperament, leading
to four types, based on what kind of fluids (called
humors) they had too much or too little of. This theory became
popular during the middle ages.
The sanguine type is cheerful and optimistic, pleasant to
be with, comfortable with his or her work. According to the
Greeks, the sanguine type has a particularly abundant supply of
blood (hence the name sanguine, from sanguis, Latin for blood) and
so also is characterized by a healthful look, including rosy cheeks.
The choleric type is characterized by a quick, hot temper,
often an aggressive nature. The name refers to bile (a chemical
that is excreted by the gall bladder to aid in digestion).
Physical features of the choleric person include a yellowish complexion
and tense muscles.
Next, we have the phlegmatic temperament. These people
are characterized by their slowness, laziness, and dullness.
The name obviously comes from the word phlegm, which is the mucus
we bring up from our lungs when we have a cold or lung infection.
Physically, these people are thought to be kind of cold, and shaking
hands with one is like shaking hands with a fish.
Finally, theres the melancholy temperament.
These people tend to be sad, even depressed, and take a pessimistic
view of the world. The name has, of course, been adopted as a synonym
for sadness, but comes from the Greek words for black bile.
Now, since there is no such thing, we dont quite know what
the ancient Greeks were referring to. But the melancholy person
was thought to have too much of it!
These four types are actually the corners of two dissecting lines:
temperature and humidity. Sanguine people are
warm and wet. Choleric people are warm and dry. Phlegmatic
people are cool and wet. Melancholy people are cool and dry.
There were even theories suggesting that different climates were
related to different types, so that Italians (warm and moist) were
sanguine, Arabs (warm and dry) were choleric, Russians (cool and
dry) were melancholy, and Englishmen (cool and wet) were phlegmatic!
What might surprise you is that this theory, based on so little,
has actually had an influence on several modern theorists.
Adler, for example, related these types to his four personalities.
But, more to the point, Ivan Pavlov, of classical conditioning fame,
used the humors to describe his dogs personalities.
One of the things Pavlov tried with his dogs was conflicting conditioning
-- ringing a bell that signaled food at the same time as another
bell that signaled the end of the meal. Some dogs took it
well, and maintain their cheerfulness. Some got angry and
barked like crazy. Some just laid down and fell asleep.
And some whimpered and whined and seemed to have a nervous breakdown.
I dont need to tell you which dog is which temperament!
Pavlov believed that he could account for these personality types
with two dimensions: On the one hand there is the overall
level of arousal (called excitation) that the dogs brains
had available. On the other, there was the ability the dogs
brains had of changing their level of arousal -- i.e. the level
of inhibition that their brains had available. Lots of arousal,
but good inhibition: sanguine. Lots of arousal, but
poor inhibition: choleric. Not much arousal, plus good
inhibition: phlegmatic. Not much arousal, plus poor
inhibition: melancholy. Arousal would be analogous to
warmth, inhibition analogous to moisture! This became the
inspiration for Hans Eysencks theory.
Hans Eysenck was born in Germany on March 4, 1916. His parents
were actors who divorced whenhe was only two, and so Hans was raised
by his grandmother. He left there when he was 18 years old,
when the Nazis came to power. As an active Jewish sympathizer,
his life was in danger.
In England, he continued his education, and received his Ph.D.
in Psychology from the University of London in 1940. During World
War II, he served as a psychologist at an emergency hospital, where
he did research on the reliability of psychiatric diagnoses. The
results led him to a life-long antagonism to main-stream clinical
After the war, he taught at the University of London, as well as
serving as the director of the psychology department of the Institute
of Psychiatry, associated with Bethlehem Royal Hospital. He has
written 75 books and some 700 articles, making him one of the most
prolific writers in psychology. Eysenck retired in 1983 and
continued to write until his death on September 4, 1997.
Eysencks theory is based primarily on physiology and
genetics. Although he is a behaviorist who considers learned
habits of great importance, he considers personality differences
as growing out of our genetic inheritance. He is, therefore,
primarily interested in what is usually called temperament.
Eysenck is also primarily a research psychologist. His methods
involve a statistical technique called factor analysis. This
technique extracts a number of dimensions from large
masses of data. For example, if you give long lists of adjectives
to a large number of people for them to rate themselves on, you
have prime raw material for factor analysis.
Imagine, for example, a test that included words like shy,
introverted, outgoing, wild,
and so on. Obviously, shy people are likely to rate themselves high
on the first two words, and low on the second two. Outgoing people
are likely to do the reverse. Factor analysis extracts dimensions
-- factors -- such as shy-outgoing from the mass of information.
The researcher then examines the data and gives the factor a name
such as introversion-extraversion. There are other techniques
that will find the best fit of the data to various possible
dimension, and others still that will find higher level
dimensions -- factors that organize the factors, like big headings
organize little headings.
Eysenck's original research found two main dimensions of temperament:
neuroticism and extraversion-introversion. Lets look
at each one...
Neuroticism is the name Eysenck gave to a dimension that ranges
from normal, fairly calm and collected people to ones that
tend to be quite nervous. His research showed
that these nervous people tended to suffer more frequently from
a variety of nervous disorders we call neuroses, hence
the name of the dimension. But understand that he was not saying
that people who score high on the neuroticism scale are necessarily
neurotics -- only that they are more susceptible to neurotic problems.
Eysenck was convinced that, since everyone in his data-pool fit
somewhere on this dimension of normality-to-neuroticism, this was
a true temperament, i.e. that this was a genetically-based, physiologically-supported
dimension of personality. He therefore went to the physiological
research to find possible explanations.
The most obvious place to look was at the sympathetic nervous
system. This is a part of the autonomic nervous system
that functions separately from the central nervous system and controls
much of our emotional responsiveness to emergency situations.
For example, when signals from the brain tell it to do so, the sympathetic
nervous systems instructs the liver to release sugar for energy,
causes the digestive system to slow down, opens up the pupils, raises
the hairs on your body (goosebumps), and tells the adrenal glands
to release more adrenalin (epinephrine). The adrenalin in turn alters
many of the bodys functions and prepares the muscles for action.
The traditional way of describing the function of the sympathetic
nervous system is to say that it prepares us for fight or
Eysenck hypothesized that some people have a more responsive sympathetic
nervous system than others. Some people remain very calm during
emergencies; some people feel considerable fear or other emotions;
and some are terrified by even very minor incidents. He suggested
that this latter group had a problem of sympathetic hyperactivity,
which made them prime candidates for the various neurotic disorders.
Perhaps the most archetypal neurotic symptom is the
panic attack. Eysenck explained panic attacks as something
like the positive feedback you get when you place a microphone too
close to a speaker: The small sounds entering the mike get amplified
and come out of the speaker, and go into the mike, get amplified
again, and come out of the speaker again, and so on, round and round,
until you get the famous squeal that we all loved to produce when
we were kids. (Lead guitarists like to do this too to make some
of their long, wailing sounds.)
Well, the panic attack follows the same pattern: You are mildly
frightened by something -- crossing a bridge, for example. This
gets your sympathetic nervous system going. That makes you more
nervous, and so more susceptible to stimulation, which gets your
system even more in an uproar, which makes you more nervous and
more susceptible.... You could say that the neuroticistic
person is responding more to his or her own panic than to the original
object of fear! As someone who has had panic attacks, I can
vouch for Eysencks description -- although his explanation
remains only a hypothesis.
His second dimension is extraversion-introversion. By this he means
something very similar to what Jung meant by the same terms, and
something very similar to our common-sense understanding of them:
Shy, quiet people versus out-going, even loud people.
This dimension, too, is found in everyone, but the physiological
explanation is a bit more complex.
Eysenck hypothesized that extraversion-introversion is a matter
of the balance of inhibition and excitation
in the brain itself. These are ideas that Pavlov came up with
to explain some of the differences he found in the reactions of
his various dogs to stress. Excitation is the brain
waking itself up, getting into an alert, learning state. Inhibition
is the brain calming itself down, either in the usual sense of relaxing
and going to sleep, or in the sense of protecting itself in the
case of overwhelming stimulation.
Someone who is extraverted, he hypothesized, has good, strong inhibition:
When confronted by traumatic stimulation -- such as a car crash
-- the extraverts brain inhibits itself, which means that
it becomes numb, you might say, to the trauma, and therefore
will remember very little of what happened. After the car crash,
the extravert might feel as if he had blanked out during
the event, and may ask others to fill them in on what happened.
Because they dont feel the full mental impact of the crash,
they may be ready to go back to driving the very next day.
The introvert, on the other hand, has poor or weak inhibition:
When trauma, such as the car crash, hits them, their brains dont
protect them fast enough, dont in any way shut down.
Instead, they are highly alert and learn well, and so remember everything
that happened. They might even report that they saw the whole
crash in slow motion! They are very unlikely to
want to drive anytime soon after the crash, and may even stop driving
Now, how does this lead to shyness or a love of parties?
Well, imagine the extravert and the introvert both getting drunk,
taking off their clothes, and dancing buck naked on a restaurant
table. The next morning, the extravert will ask you what happened
(and where are his clothes). When you tell him, hell laugh
and start making arrangements to have another party. The introvert,
on the other hand, will remember every mortifying moment of his
humiliation, and may never come out of his room again. (Im
very introverted, and again I can vouch to a lot of this experientially!
Perhaps some of you extraverts can tell me if he describes your
experiences well, too -- assuming, of course, that you can remember
One of the things that Eysenck discovered was that violent criminals
tend to be non-neuroticistic extraverts. This makes common sense,
if you think about it: It is hard to imagine somebody who is painfully
shy and who remembers their experiences and learns from them holding
up a Seven-Eleven! It is even harder to imagine someone given to
panic attacks doing so. But please understand that there are many
kinds of crime besides the violent kind that introverts and neurotics
might engage in!
Neuroticism and extraversion-introversion
Another thing Eysenck looked into was the interaction of the two
dimensions and what that might mean in regard to various psychological
problems. He found, for example, that people with phobias
and obsessive-compulsive disorder tended to be quite introverted,
whereas people with conversion disorders (e.g. hysterical paralysis)
or dissociative disorders (e.g. amnesia) tended to be more extraverted.
Heres his explanation: Highly neuroticistic people over-respond
to fearful stimuli; If they are introverts, they will learn to avoid
the situations that cause panic very quickly and very thoroughly,
even to the point of becoming panicky at small symbols of those
situations -- they will develop phobias. Other introverts will learn
(quickly and thoroughly) particular behaviors that hold off their
panic -- such as checking things many times over or washing their
hands again and again.
Highly neuroticistic extraverts, on the other hand, are good at
ignoring and forgetting the things that overwhelm them. They
engage in the classic defense mechanisms, such as denial and repression.
They can conveniently forget a painful weekend, for example, or
even forget their ability to feel and use their legs.
Eysenck came to recognize that, although he was using large populations
for his research, there were some populations he was not tapping.
He began to take his studies into the mental institutions of England.
When these masses of data were factor analyzed, a third significant
factor began to emerge, which he labeled psychoticism.
Like neuroticism, high psychoticism does not mean you are psychotic
or doomed to become so -- only that you exhibit some qualities commonly
found among psychotics, and that you may be more susceptible, given
certain environments, to becoming psychotic.
As you might imagine, the kinds of qualities found in high psychoticistic
people include a certain recklessness, a disregard for common sense
or conventions, and a degree of inappropriate emotional expression.
It is the dimension that separates those people who end up institutions
from the rest of humanity!
For a highly abbreviated minitest, click
Hans Eysenck was an iconoclast -- someone who enjoyed attacking
established opinion. He was an early and vigorous critic of
the effectiveness of psychotherapy, especially the Freudian variety.
He also criticized the scientific nature of much of the academic
varieties of psychology. As a hard-core behaviorist, he felt
that only the scientific method (as he understood it) could give
us an accurate understanding of human beings. As a statistician,
he felt that mathematical methods were essential. As a physiologically-oriented
psychologist, he felt that physiological explanations were the only
Of course, we can argue with him on all these points: Phenomenology
and other qualitative methods are also considered scientific by
many. Some things are not so easily reduced to numbers, and
factor analysis in particular is a technique not all statisticians
approve of. And it is certainly debatable that all things
must have a physiological explanation -- even B. F. Skinner, the
arch-behaviorist, thought more in terms of conditioning -- a psychological
process -- than in terms of physiology.
And yet, his descriptions of various types of people, and of how
they can be understood physically, ring particularly true.
And most parents, teachers, and child psychologists will more than
support the idea that kids have built-in differences in their personalities
that begin at birth (and even before), and which no amount of re-education
will touch. Although I personally am not a behaviorist, dislike
statistics, and am more culturally oriented that biologically, I
agree with the basics of Eysencks theory. You, of course,
have to make up your own mind!
It's hard to pick out just a few of Eysenck's books -- there are
so many! "The" text on his theory is probably The Biological
Basis of Personality (1967), but it is a bit hard. The more
"pop" book is Psychology is about People (1972). If you are
interested in psychoticism, try Psychoticism as a Dimension of
Personality (1976). And if you want to understand his
view of criminality, see Crime and Personality (1964). His
unusual, but interesting, theory about personality and cancer and
heart disease -- he thinks personality is more significant than
smoking, for example! -- is summarized in Psychology Today
There have been literally dozens of other attempts at discovering
the basic human temperaments. Here are a few of the better
Your body and your personality
In the 1950s, William Sheldon (b. 1899) became
interested in the variety of human bodies. He built upon earlier
work done by Ernst Kretschmer in the 1930's. Kretschmer
believed that there was a relationship between three different physical
types and certain psychological disorders. Specifically, he
believed that the short, round pyknic type was more prone
to cyclothymic or bipolar disorders, and that the tall thin asthenic
type (a too a lesser degree the muscular athletic thype)
was more prone to schizophrenia. His research, although involving
thousands of institutionalized patients, was suspect because he
failed to control for age and the schizophrenics were considerably
younger than the bipolar patients, and so more likely to be thinner.
Sheldon developed a precise measurement system that summarized
body shapes with three numbers. These numbers referred to
how closely you matched three types:
1. Ectomorphs: Slender, often tall, people,
with long arms and legs and fine features.
2. Mesomorphs: Stockier people, with broad shoulders
and good musculature.
3. Endomorphs: Chubby people, tending to pear-shaped.
Noting that these three types have some pretty strong
associated with them, he decided to test the idea. He came
up with another three numbers, this time referring how closely you
match three personality types:
1. Cerebrotonics: Nervous types, relatively
shy, often intellectual.
2. Somatotonics: Active types, physically fit
3. Viscerotonics: Sociable types, lovers of
food and physical comforts.
He theorized that the connection between the three physical types
and the three personality types was embryonic development.
In the early stages of our prenatal development, we are composed
of three layers or skins: the ectoderm or outer
layer, which develops into skin and nervous system; the mesoderm
or middle layer, which develops into muscle; and the endoderm or
inner layer, which develops into the viscera.
Some embryos show stronger development in one layer or another.
He suggested that those who show strong ectoderm development would
become ectomorphs, with more skin surface and stronger neural development
(including the brain -- hence cerebrotonic!). Those with strong
mesoderm development would become mesomorphs, with lots of muscle
(or body -- hence somatotonic!). And those with strong endomorph
development would become endomorphs, with well developed viscera
and a strong attraction to food (hence viscerotonic!) And
his measurements backed him up.
Now at several points above, I used types with quotes.
This is an important point: He sees these two sets of three
numbers as dimensions or traits, not as types (pigeon-holes)
at all. In other words, we are all more-or-less ecto-, meso-,
AND endomorphs, as well as more-or-less cerebro-, somato-, AND viscerotonic!
Raymond Cattell (b. 1905) is another prolific theorist-researcher
like Eysenck who has made extensive use of the factor-analysis method,
although a slightly different version. In his early research,
he isolated 16 personality factors, which he composed into a test
called, of course, the 16PF!
Later research added seven more factors to the list. Even
later research added twelve pathological factors found
using items from the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory).
A second order factor analysis on the total of 35 factors
revealed eight deeper factors, as follows, in order
QI. Exvia (Extraversion)
QII. Anxiety (Neuroticism)
QIII. Corteria ("cortical alertness," practical
QIV. Independence (strong loner types)
QV. Discreetness (socially shrewd types)
QVI. Subjectivity (distant and out-of-it)
QVII. Intelligence (IQ!)
QVIII. Good Upbringing (stable, docile, the salt
of the earth)
Arnold Buss (b. 1924) and Robert Plomin (b. 1948),
both working at the University of Colorado at the time, took a different
approach: If some aspect of our behavior or personality is
supposed to have a genetic, inborn basis, we should find it more
clearly in infants than in adults.
So Buss and Plomin decided to study infants. Plus, since
identical twins have the same genetic inheritance, we should see
them sharing any genetically based aspects of personality.
If we compare identical twins with fraternal twins (who are simply
brothers or sisters, genetically speaking), we can pick out things
that are more likely genetic from things that are more likely due
to the learning babies do in their first few months.
Buss and Plomin asked mothers of twin babies to fill out questionnaires
about their babies behavior and personality. Some babies
were identical and others fraternal. Using statistical techniques
similar to factor analysis, they separated out which descriptions
were more likely genetic from which were more likely learned.
They found four dimensions of temperament:
1. Emotionality-impassiveness: How emotional
and excitable were the babies? Some were given to emotional
outbursts of distress, fear, and anger -- others were not.
This was their strongest temperament dimension.
2. Sociability-detachment: How much did
the babies enjoy, or avoid, contact and interaction with people.
Some babies are people people, others are loners.
3. Activity-lethargy: How vigorous, how active,
how energetic were the babies? Just like adults, some babies
are always on the move, fidgety, busy -- and some are not.
4. Impulsivity-deliberateness: How quickly did
the babies change gears, move from one interest to another?
Some people quickly act upon their urges, others are more careful
The last one is the weakest of the four, and in the original research
showed up only in boys. That doesnt mean girls cant
be impulsive or deliberate -- only that they seemed to learn their
style, while boys seem to come one way or the other straight from
the womb. But their later research found the dimension in
girls as well, just not quite so strongly. It is interesting
that impulse problem such as hyperactivity and attention deficit
are more common among boys than girls, as if to show that, while
girls can be taught to sit still and pay attention, some boys cannot.
The Magic Number
In the last couple of decades, an increasing number of theorists
and researchers have come to the conclusion that five is the magic
number for temperament dimensions. The first version,
called The Big Five, was introduced in 1963 by Warren
Norman. It was a fresh reworking of an Air Force technical
report by E. C. Tuppes and R. E. Christal, who in
turn had done a re-evaluation of Cattells original 16 Personality
But it wasnt until R. R. McCrae and P. T. Costa,
Jr., presented their version, called The Five Factor Theory,
in 1990, that the idea realy took hold of the individual differences
research community. When they introduced the NEO Personality
Inventory, many people felt, and continue to feel, that wed
finally hit the motherload!
Here are the five factors, and some defining adjectives:
4. Emotional Stability (Norman)
5. Culture (Norman) or Openness to Experience
(Costa and McCrae)
For a Big Five "mini-test," click
The PAD Model
Albert Mehrabian has a three-dimensional temperament model
that has been well received. It is based on his three-dimensional
model of emotions. he theorizes that you can describe just
about any emotion with these three dimensions: pleasure-displeasure
(P), arousal-nonarousal (A), and dominance-submissiveness
He reasons that, while we all vary from situation to situation
and time to time on these three emotional dimensions, some of us
are more likely to respond one way or another -- i.e. we have a
temperamental disposition to certain emotional responses.
He uses the same PAD initials for the temperaments: Trait
Pleasure-Displeasure, Trait Arousability, and Trait
P means that, overall, you experience more pleasure
than displeasure. It relates positively to extraversion, affiliation,
nurturance, empathy, and achievement, and negatively to neuroticism,
hostility, and depression.
A means that you respond strongly to unusual, complex,
or changing situations. It relates to emotionality, neuroticism,
sensitivity, introversion, schizophrenia, heart disease, eating
disorders, and lots more.
D means that you feel in control over your life.
It relates positively to extraversion, assertiveness, competitiveness,
affiliation, social skills, and nurturance, and negatively to neuroticism,
tension, anxiety, introversion, conformity, and depression.
Although you may feel a bit overwhelmed with all the various theories,
personality theorists in fact are more encouraged than discouraged:
It is fascinating to us that all these different theorists, often
coming from very different directions, still manage to come up with
very parallel sets of temperament dimensions!
First, every theorist puts Extraversion-Introversion and Neuroticism/
Emotional Stability/ Anxiety into their lists. Few personologists
have any doubts about these!
Eysenck adds Psychoticism, which some of his followers are re-evaluating
as an aggressive, impulsive, sensation-seeking factor. That
to some extent matches up with Buss and Plomins Impulsivity,
and may be the opposite of Big Fives Agreeableness and Conscientiousness.
Buss and Plomins theory fits best with Sheldons:
Cerebrotonics are Emotional (and not Sociable), Somatotonics are
Active (and not Emotional), and Viscerotonics are Sociable (and
not Active). In other words, the factors of these two models
are rotated slightly from each other!
Cattells factors, other than Exvia and Anxiety, are a little
harder to place. Discreteness looks a little like Agreeableness,
and Corteria a bit like the opposite of Agreeableness; Good
Upbringing looks like Conscientiousness; Independence, perhaps
with Intelligence, looks a little bit like Culture. Subjectivity,
Corteria, and Independence together might be similar to Eysencks
Mehrabians PAD factors are a little tougher to line up with
the others, which makes sense considering the different theoretical
roots. But we can see that Arousability is a lot like Neuroticism
/ Emotionality and that Dominance is a lot like Extraversion / Sociability.
Pleasure seems related to Extraversion plus non-Neuroticism.
We can also look at Jung and the Myers-Briggs test: Extraversion
and Introversion are obvious. Feeling (vs. Thinking) sounds
a bit like Agreeableness. Judging (vs. Perceiving) sounds
like Conscientiousness. And Intuiting (vs. Sensing) sounds
a little like Culture. It helps to recall that Jung saw these
types and functions as essentially genetic -- i.e. temperaments!
I can only give you places to start investigating these various
theories. For Sheldon, see The Varieties of Temperament
(1942) and Kretschmer's earlier Physique and Character (1925).
For Cattell, see The Handbook for the 16 Personality Factors
Questionnaire (1970, with Ebert and Tatsuoka). Buss and
Plomin's Work is best summarized in Buss's text book, Personality:
Temperament, Social Behavior, and the Self. For Norman,
go to Normans "Toward an adequate taxonomy of personality
attributes in The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology
(1966, pp. 574-583). For McCrae and Costa, see Personality
in Adulthood (1990) as well as an entire issue of The Journal
of Personality devoted to the research (#60, 1992). And
for Mehrabian, go to his web site at www.ablecom.net/users/kaaj/psych/.
Also, see William Revelle's summaries at http://fas.psych.nwu.edu/perproj/theory/big5.table.html
Copyright 1998, C. George Boeree