Sunday, November 3, 2013

Classical Theory of 4 Temperaments


The concept of the four temperaments — choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic—dates back 2,000 years to Hippocrates, the “father of medical science”. He held that differences in personalities were related to an individual’s predominant bodily fluid— hence, the rather unappealing names!

* Choleric: yellow bile from the liver
* Sanguine: blood from the heart
* Melancholic: black bile from the kidneys
* Phlegmatic: phlegm from the lungs

The “sanguine” temperament was thought to be eager and optimistic; the “melancholic” reticent and somewhat doleful; the “choleric” passionate; and the “phlegmatic” calm.

During the Middle Ages, Philippus Paracelsus described four natures whose behaviors were said to be influenced by four kinds of spirits: nymphs, sylphs, gnomes, and salamanders.

Though the concept of the four types had been around since the early Greeks, the use of the word “temperament” (from the Latin temperamentum, or “mixture”) first came into use in the seventeenth century.

Most twentieth-century psychologists abandoned holistic observation of human behavior for a microscopic examination of parts, fragments, traits, and so on. To them, all human beings were basically alike, and individual differences were due to chance or conditioning.

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What is Temperament?

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 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. Temperament is also 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 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 now you are expecting 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 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 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.

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The sanguine temperament is fundamentally sociable and pleasure-seeking; sanguine people are impulsive and charismatic. They tend to enjoy social gatherings, making new friends and tend to be boisterous. They are usually quite creative and often daydream. Sanguine personalities generally struggle with following tasks all the way through, are chronically late, and tend to be forgetful and sometimes a little sarcastic. Often, when they pursue a new hobby, they lose interest as soon as it ceases to be engaging or fun. They are very much people persons. They are talkative and not shy. Sanguines generally have an almost shameless nature, certain that what they are doing is right. They however, lack confidence. Sanguine people are warm-hearted, pleasant, lively and optimistic. They have been called "people-oriented extroverts."


The choleric temperament is fundamentally ambitious and leader-like. They have a lot of aggression, energy, and/or passion, and try to instill that in others. They are task oriented people and are focused on getting a job done efficiently; their motto is usually "do it now." They can dominate people of other temperaments with their strong wills, especially phlegmatic types, and can become dictatorial or tyrannical. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics. They like to be in charge of everything and are good at planning, as they can often immediately see a practical solution to a problem. However, they can quickly fall into deep depression or moodiness when failures or setbacks befall them. They have been called "task-oriented extroverts."


The melancholic temperament is fundamentally introverted and is given to thought. Melancholic people are often perceived as very (or overly) pondering and are both considerate and very cautious.

Melancholics can be highly creative in activities such as poetry, art, and invention – and are sensitive to others. Because of this sensitivity and their thoughtfulness they can become preoccupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world and are susceptible to depression and moodiness. Often they are perfectionists. Their desire for perfection often results in a high degree of personal excellence but also causes them to be highly conscientious and difficult to relate to because others often cannot please them. They are self-reliant and independent, preferring to do things themselves to meet their standards. One negative part of being a melancholic is that they can get so involved in what they are doing they forget to think of other issues. Their caution enables them to prevent problems that the more impulsive sanguine runs into, but can also cause them to procrastinate and remain in the planning stage of a project for very long periods. Melancholics prefer to avoid much attention and prefer to remain in the background; they do, however, desire recognition for their many works of creativity.[13] They have been called "task-oriented introverts."


The phlegmatic temperament is fundamentally relaxed and quiet, ranging from warmly attentive to lazily sluggish. Phlegmatics tend to be content with themselves and are kind. Phlegmatics are consistent, they can be relied upon to be steady and faithful friends. They are accepting and affectionate, making friends easily. They tend to be good diplomats because their tendency not to judge and affable nature makes reconciling differing groups easy for them. Phlegmatics prefer to observe and to think on the world around them while not getting involved. They may try to inspire others to do the things which they themselves think about doing. They may be shy and often prefer stability to uncertainty and change. Their fear of change (and of work) can make them susceptible to stagnation or laziness, or even stubbornness. They are consistent, relaxed, calm, rational, curious, and observant, qualities that make them good administrators. They can also be passive-aggressive. They have been called "people-oriented introverts."

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