Temperament – Concept, types and differences with character

We explain what temperament is for psychology and what types exist according to different theories. Also, differences with character.

Temperament is the natural way in which a person interacts with the environment.

What is temperament?

In psychiatry and psychology, temperament it is the common and basic way in which a certain individual deals with the situations of his life. It refers both to the dominant structure of humor and motivation of people, and to the intensity of their psychic affects, that is, it is their natural and spontaneous way of interacting with the environment. It should not be confused with personality or character.

Temperament, unlike other psychic factors, It is stable and hereditary, and it does not involve external factors of the life. In fact, in a child at an early age the temperament that he will have throughout his life can already be evident, according to the style of behavior that is most natural for him when reacting to situations.

Since classical antiquity the study of temperament has interested mankind, partly as a way to classify and predict human reactions. In fact, the word itself comes from Latin temperamentum, a form derived from the verb temperare (“Mix” or “dilute”), and that could be translated as “the unique mixture of each one” or “the combination of each one”.

Types of temperament

The ancient Greeks, and especially the doctors Hippocrates (460-370 BC) and Galen (129-200) based their studies of the human body and psychology on the supposed existence of four fundamental humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile ), which as emanations of the soul could determine the four human temperaments:

  • Blood temperament. One in which blood predominates, is outgoing and highly flexible in the environment, typical of lively, active, intuitive people, willing to enjoy, whose decisions tend to be made based on feelings.
  • Phlegmatic temperament. The one in whom phlegm predominates, is calm, calm, serious, impassive and rational, with a tendency towards balance and analytical thinking, without fanfare, which takes its time when making a decision.
  • Melancholic temperament. The one in whom black bile predominates is sad, perfectionist, analytical and highly emotionally sensitive, sometimes predisposed to depression and introversion. It can present sudden emotional changes and has a low reactivity towards its surroundings.
  • Choleric temperament. The one in whom yellow bile predominates, is nervous, unbalanced, hot, fast and very independent, dominant and manipulative, intolerant and not very sensitive to others. He does not require stimuli from his environment, but it is usually he who stimulates others around him, and is prone to unattainable goals.

This four temperament model was around for centuries, and was in fact the basis of medieval European medicine. Later, however, said archetypes tended to be intermixed, since no one fits them 100%, thus obtaining combinations such as choleric-phlegmatic (COL-FLEM).

Subsequently, many other theories and approaches to the personality and constitution of individuals emerged, most of which used to combine the bodily aspects with the mental or emotional ones. Thus, for example, in his work Constitution and character (1921), the German psychiatrist Ernst Kretschmer (1888-1964) proposed three fundamental physical types:

  • Leptosomatic, with a slim body, slender, elongated angular features, and that seems older than it is.
  • Athletic, of average or above average height, muscular, with a large chest and strong shoulders.
  • Pyknic, of medium or short stature, short and solid neck, thick and low belly, rounded torso.

According to Kretschmer, this typology corresponded to a certain propensity for one or other mental illnesses; a premise that the American WH Sheldon (1898-1977) inherited for his theory of somatotypes, in which said body classification corresponded to certain types of temperament. A) Yes, Sheldon proposed the following classification:

  • Endomorph, similar to Kretschmer’s picnic type, is dominated by the viscera, especially the stomach, and is marked by the embryonic development of the endoderm (intestinal tract). Viscerotonia, interest in visceral activity and all that this culturally implies dominates in this type of body.
  • Mesomorph, similar to the Kretschmer leptosomatic type, is dominated by the nervous system, the senses, and the skin, which are formed in the embryo from the ectoderm. Cerebrotonia, the interest in brain and nervous activity, and all that this culturally implies, dominates in this type of body.
  • Ectomorph, similar to the athletic type of Kretschmer, is dominated by the muscles and the bony apparatus, derived from the embryonic mesoderm. Somatotonia, an interest in muscular activity and everything that this culturally implies dominates in this type of body.

These typologies were very popular in the mid-20th century, although today they are considered ancient and outdated approximations, since the union between body and mind (psychosomatic) is described in rather simplistic terms. However, this typology influenced psychoanalytic approaches to personality, such as those proposed by Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) in his personality types.

Temperament and character

While it is possible that in many areas these two terms are used synonymously, according to the American psychiatrist Claude Robert Cloninger (1944-) they are not exactly the same. Unlike temperament, character is usually associated with voluntary aspects of personality that have to do with self-care and self-monitoring, and It consists of four habits or dimensions:

  • The avoidance of danger.
  • The search for news.
  • The dependence of the reward.
  • Persistence.

The combination of these four traits thus make up what we call character, and these are acquired forms, that is, learned, from initial genetic components and tendencies.

That is temperament is not modifiable and depends on heredity; while character is, although it is also initially based on the congenital. For this reason, there is a tendency to think that temperament is uncontrollable and ineducable, while character can be modeled.