Monday, September 1, 2014

William Sheldon’s Body and Temperament Types

Who was William Sheldon?

William Sheldon (1898-1977) was an American psychologist who devoted his life to observing the variety of human bodies and temperaments. He taught and did research at a number of U.S. Universities and is best known for his series of books on the human constitution. He was a keen observer of animals and birds as a child, and he turned this talent to good effect by becoming an avid people-watcher, and out of his observations he gradually elaborated his typology.

The Basic Components of Physique

For his study of the human physique, Dr. Sheldon started with 4,000 photographs of college-age men, which showed front, back and side views. By carefully examining these photos he discovered that there were three fundamental elements which, when combined together, made up all these physiques or somatotypes. With great effort and ingenuity he worked out ways to measure these three components and to express them numerically so that every human body could be described in terms of three numbers, and that two independent observers could arrive at very similar results in determining a person's body type.

Dr. Sheldon was particularly active in this field of study during the 1940s and eventually came to hold that there were three major human personality traits which he called Viscerotonia, Somatotonia, and Cerebrotonia. These personality traits, Sheldon came to believe, bore a direct relationship with each of three human body types (or Somatypes ) which he called Endomorphy, Mesomorphy and Ectomorphy.

These basic elements - endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy - seemed to derive from the three layers of the human embryo, the endoderm, the mesoderm and the ectoderm.

Endomorphy is centered on the abdomen, and the whole digestive system.

Mesomorphy is focused on the muscles and the circulatory system.

Ectomorphy is related to the brain and the nervous system.

We have all three elements in our bodily makeup, just as we all have digestive, circulatory and nervous systems. No one is simply an endomorph without having at the same time some mesomorphy and ectomorphy, but we have these components in varying degrees. Sheldon evaluated the degree a component was present on a scale ranging from one to seven, with one as the minimum and seven as the maximum.

The Extreme Endomorph – Roundness

The easiest way to get an idea of the variety of human physiques is by looking at the three extremes, even though in actual life the various combinations are much more common. According to Sheldon's system a 7-1-1 (seven-one-one) is the most extreme endomorph with minimal mesomorphy and ectomorphy. In this physique the body is round and soft, as if all the mass had been concentrated in the abdominal area. In fact, the large intestine of an extreme endomorph can be two or three times the length of that of an ectomorph. Sheldon likened this abdomen to a powerful boiler room with fine powers of assimilation. The arms and legs of the extreme endomorph are short and tapering, and the hands and feet comparatively small, with the upper arms and thighs being hammed and more developed than the lower arms and legs. The body has smooth contours without projecting bones, and a high waist. There is some development of the breast in the male and a fullness of the buttocks. The skin is soft and smooth like that of an apple, and there is a tendency towards premature baldness beginning at the top of the head and spreading in a polished circle. The hair is fine and the whole head is spherical. The head is large and the face broad and relaxed with the features blending into an over-all impression of roundness. The head is like a pumpkin sitting on a barrel, and the abdomen is like a sphere with the chest attached to it like an inverted funnel.

Sheldon imagined the body of the endomorph as a balloon whose walls were thinner at the abdomen and thicker further away. When the balloon was inflated it was largest at the abdomen and smallest at the farthest extremities. Santa Claus is our society's image of the extreme endomorph.

The Extreme Mesomorph – Muscles

In the extremely mesomorphic physique, or 1-7-1, there is a squareness and hardness of the body due to large bones and well-defined muscles. The chest area, which Sheldon likened to an engine room, dominates over the abdominal area and tapers to a relatively narrow, low waist. The bones and muscles of the head are prominent as well, with clearly defined cheek bones and a square, heavy jaw. The face is long and broad and the head tends towards a cubical shape. The muscles on either side of the neck create a pyramid-like effect. Both the lower and upper arms and legs are well-developed and the wrists and fingers are heavy and massive. The skin is thick and tends towards coarseness. It takes and holds a tan well and can develop a leathery appearance with heavy wrinkles. Sheldon compared it to the skin of an orange. The hair is basically heavy-textured, and baldness, when it appears, usually starts at the front of the head. The extreme mesomorph is Mr. Universe or Tarzan.

Sheldon's initial work with body and temperament types was based mostly on men, and it is in the description of the extreme mesomorph that we have the most need to develop a corresponding female mesomorphic description. Women on the whole tend to have less mesomorphy than men and more endomorphy. Women who are primarily mesomorphs rarely show the same degree of sharp angularity, prominent bone structure and highly relieved muscles found in their male counterparts. Their contours are smoother, yet the chest area clearly dominates over the abdominal area and both upper and lower arms and legs are well-muscled. The skin tends to be finer than in the male mesomorph, but shows some of the same characteristics in terms of tanning and wrinkling.

The Extreme Ectomorph – Linear

The highly ectomorphic physique, or 1-1-7, is fragile and delicate with light bones and slight muscles. The limbs are relatively long and the shoulders droop. In contrast to the compactness of the endomorph and mesomorph, the ectomorph is extended in space and linear. The ribs are visible and delicate and the thighs and upper arms weak. The fingers, toes and neck are long. The features of the face are sharp and fragile, and the shape of the face as a whole is triangular with the point of the triangle at the chin. The teeth are often crowded in the lower jaw which is somewhat receding. The skin is dry and is like the outer skin of an onion. It tends to burn and peel easily and not retain a tan. The relatively great bodily area in relation to mass makes the ectomorph suffer from extreme heat or cold. The hair is fine and fast-growing and sometimes difficult to keep in place. Baldness is rare. The extreme ectomorph in our society is the absent-minded professor or Ichabod Crane.

Body Type Recognition

Once you had grasped these three basic elements you may try to recognize them in yourself and your friends. If you try, you may, indeed, find some people who are extreme endomorphs, or mesomorphs, or ectomorphs, with little of the other components, but you can be sure there are not many of them.

Most of the people you know are a puzzling variety of combinations. Therefore, Sheldon liked to draw a body type diagram on which he plotted the different body types. Here's where he placed the extreme endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph:

Other people were strong in two elements, and had less of the third. They fell in between the poles of Sheldon's diagram. Four of these combinations captured our attention. There was the hefty muscular person, the muscular thin person, and close to him, the thinner yet still muscular person, and between the ectomorph and the endomorph the person who was spread out and round without really being muscular.

Finally there were the people who had a lot of each component, and they fell right in the middle of Sheldon's diagram, and the completed diagram looked like this:  

If we take a tour of Sheldon's body type diagram, the endomorph's silhouette looks like a pear. Further up north we meet the endomorphic mesomorph. His abdomen is not quite as massive. His shoulders are bulkier, and this creates a rectangular shape. Much of the softness of the endomorph is gone, replaced by a feeling of solidness. The endomorphic mesomorph is like a bull. Once we hit the extreme mesomorphic pole the bulk of the abdomen has dwindled even further, and there's a strong contrast between the relatively narrow waist and hips and the powerful shoulders and arms.

Going down the other side towards the ectomorphic pole we have the ectomorphic mesomorph. He is less heavily built, but still muscular. His neighbor to the south has an equal measure of mesomorphy and ectomorphy, making him thin and muscular. Then comes the more extreme ectomorph, and between him and the endomorph, the ectomorphic endomorph, who is perhaps the hardest to recognize. He is spread out and round without being muscular. In the middle are mid-range physiques well endowed with all the basic elements.

And somewhere in this panoramic rainbow of physiques is you. Can you find yourself?

Body type recognition is easier than figuring out psychological types because bodies are naturally much more visible. But it is still a skill that has to be acquired by practice. And Sheldon had it in the highest degree. He was a consummate body type tracker. He didn't limit himself to his laboratory photographs, but wandered about beaches and rode the subway in search of interesting and unusual physiques. He could look across a street and tell the difference between a 6-2-3 and a 6-3-2. This level of skill took a lifetime of dedication, but it is possible for us to acquire the basics if we work at it.

One of the unresolved problems of body type recognition is the question of the physiques of women. I have already mentioned that they are more endomorphic and less mesomorphic, but they are also more mid-range. You see more extreme physiques among men than among women, except for the endomorphs. Women are grouped more toward the cent of the body type diagram and that makes their somatotypes harder to distinguish from one another. A female ectomorph, for example, often has a lot more endomorphy than a male ectomorph. But still and all, it's possible to find the eight basic body types among women as well as men.

Overall, we can summarize the following distinctive characteristics for each of the described body type:

The Endomorph is physically quite 'round', and is typified as the 'barrel of fun' person. They tend to have:
* Wide hips and narrow shoulders, which makes them rather pear-shaped.
* Quite a lot of fat spread across the body, including upper arms and thighs.
* They have quite slim ankles and wrists, which only serves to accentuate the fatter other parts.
* Underdeveloped muscles and over-developed digestive system.

The Ectomorph is a form of opposite of the Endomorph. Physically, they tend to have:
* Narrow shoulders and hips.
* A thin and narrow face, with a high forehead.
* A thin and narrow chest and abdomen.
* Thin legs and arms.
* Delicate build and lightly musculed.
* Very little body fat.

The mesomorph is somewhere between the round endomorph and the thin ectomorph. Physically, they possess the more 'desirable' body, and have:
* Large head, broad shoulders and narrow waist (wedge-shaped).
* Muscular body, with strong forearms and thighs.
* Thick skin.
* Upright posture.
* Very little body fat.

Sources and Additional Information:

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