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Four Temperaments is a theory of psychology that stems from the ancient concept of four humors (humorism).

4 humors (choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, and sanguine)

Simple emoticons of the four temperaments (clockwise from top right: Choleric, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic).

History and Development

Temperament theory has its roots in the ancient four humors theory of the Greek Historian Hippocrates (460-370 BC), who believed certain human behaviors were caused by body fluids (called "humors"): blood, [yellow] bile, black bile, and phlegm. Next, Galen (131-200) developed the first typology of temperament in his dissertation Die Temperamentis, and searched for physiological reasons for different behaviors in humans. Nicholas Culpeper, the English herbalist, (1616-1654) was the first to disregard the idea of fluids as defining human behavior, and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Alfred Adler (1879-1937), Theorien von Adicke (1905), Eduard Spränger (1914), Ernst Kretchmer (1920), Erich Fromm (1947), and Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) all theorized on the four temperaments (with different names) and greatly shaped our modern theories of temperament. Hans Eysenck (1916-1997) was one of the first psychologists to analyze personality differences using a psycho-statistical method (factor analysis), and his research led him to believe that temperament is biologically based. The factors he proposed in his book Dimensions of Personality were Neuroticism (N) which was the tendency to experience negative emotions, and the second was Extraversion (E) which was the tendency to enjoy positive events, especially social ones. By pairing the two dimensions, Eysenck noted how the results were similar to the four ancient temperaments.

  • High N, High E = Choleric
  • High N, Low E = Melancholic (also called "Melancholy"/pl. "-ies")
  • Low N, High E = Sanguine
  • Low N, Low E = Phlegmatic

Other researchers developed similar systems, many of which did not use the ancient temperament names, and several paired extroversion with a different factor, which would determine relationship/task-orientation. Examples are DiSC assessment, Social Styles, and a theory that adds a fifth temperament.

One of the most popular today is the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, whose four temperaments were based largely on the Greek gods Apollo, Dionysus, Epimetheus and Prometheus. and were mapped to the 16 types of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). They were renamed (SP=Artisan, SJ=Guardian, NF=Idealist, NT=Rational). Rather than using extroversion and introversion (E/I) and task/people focus, like other theories, KTS mapped the temperaments to "Sensing" and "Intuition" (S/N, renamed "concrete" and "abstract") paired with a new category, "Cooperative" and "pragmatic" (loosely based on Judging and Perception, or J/P). When "Role-Informative" and "Role-Directive" (loosely connected with Thinking/Feeling or T/F, and corresponding to people/task-orientation), and finally E/I are factored in, you attain the 16 types. Finally, the Interaction Styles of Linda V. Berens combines Directing and Informing with E/I to form another group of "styles" which greatly resemble the ancient temperaments, and these are mapped together with the Keirsey Temperaments onto the 16 types.

The four personality types

Each of the four types of humours corresponded to a different personality type.


Sanguine indicates the personality of an individual with the temperament of blood, the season of spring (wet and hot), and the element of air. A person who is sanguine is generally optimistic, cheerful, even-tempered, confident, rational, popular, and fun-loving. They can be daydreamy to the point of not accomplishing anything and impulsive, acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion. Sanguines usually have a lot of energy, but have a problem finding a way to direct the energy. This also describes the manic phase of a bipolar disorder. Sanguine people were described as generally enjoying good mental as well as physical health. This type of personality was associated with high levels of blood supply (or the strength of the blood), hence the term sanguine from the Latin sanguis (blood).


Choleric corresponds to the fluid of yellow bile, the season of summer (dry and hot), and the element of fire. A person who is choleric is easily angered or bad tempered so are described as aggressive, tense, volatile individuals. A person who is choleric is a doer and a leader. They have a lot of ambition, energy and drive, and try to instill it in others, but can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic, military and political figures were thought to be cholerics. On the negative side, they are easily angered or bad tempered.

In folk medicine, a baby referred to as "colic" is one who cries frequently and seems to be constantly angry. This is an adaptation of "choleric," although no one now would attribute the condition to bile. Similarly, a person described as "bilious" is mean-spirited, suspicious, and angry. This, again, is an adaptation of the old humour theory "choleric."

The disease Cholera gained its name from choler (bile).


Melancholic is the personality of an individual characterized by black bile; hence (Greek μελας, melas, "black", + χολη, kholé, "bile"); a person who was a thoughtful ponderer had a melancholic disposition. Often very kind and considerate, melancholics can be highly creative - as in poets and artists - but also can become overly obsessed on the tragedy and cruelty in the world, thus becoming depressed. It also indicates the season of autumn (dry and cold) and the element of earth. A melancholy is also often a perfectionist, being very particular about what they want and how they want it in some cases. This often results in being unsatisfied with one's own artistic or creative works, always pointing out to themselves what could and should be improved.

This temperament describes the depressed phase of a bipolar disorder.

There is no bodily fluid corresponding to black bile. However, the medulla of the adrenal glands decomposes very rapidly after death, and it is possible that this product is the mythical "black bile".


A phlegmatic person is calm and unemotional. Phlegmatic means pertaining to phlegm, corresponds to the season of winter (wet and cold), and connotes the element of water.

While phlegmatics are generally self-content and kind, their shy personality can often inhibit enthusiasm in others and make themselves lazy and resistant to change. They are very consistent, relaxed, and observant, making them good administrators and diplomats. Like the sanguine personality, the phlegmatic has many friends. But the phlegmatic is more reliable and compassionate; these characteristics typically make the phlegmatic a more dependable friend.

Phlegmatic individuals are the opposite of sanguine and choleric ones, the former being cold (both physically and psychologically), and the two latter types being warm.

c. 400 B.C. Hippocrates's four humours yellow bile black bile phlegm blood
Season: summer autumn winter spring
Element: fire earth water air
Organ: liver brain/lungs gall bladder spleen
Qualities: dry & hot dry & cold wet & cold wet & hot
Characteristics: easily angered, bad tempered despondent, sleepless, irritable calm, unemotional courageous, hopeful, amorous
c. 325 B.C. Aristotle's four sources of happiness hedone (sensuous pleasure) propraitari (acquiring assets) ethikos (moral virtue) dialogike (logical investigation)
c. 190 A.D.' Galen's four temperaments choleric melancholic phlegmatic sanguine
c. 1550 Paracelsus's four totem spirits changeable salamanders industrious gnomes inspired nymphs curious sylphs
c. 1905 Adicke's four world views innovative traditional doctrinaire skeptical
c. 1914 Spränger's four value attitudes artistic economic religious theoretic
c. 1920 Kretchmer's four character styles hypomanic depressive hyperesthetic anesthetic
c. 1947 Erich Fromm's four orientations exploitative hoarding receptive marketing
c. 1958 Myers's cognitive function types SP - sensory perception SJ - sensory judgement NF - intuitive feeling NT - intuitive thinking
c. 1978 Keirsey's four temperaments artisan guardian idealist rational
Keirsey, David (1978). Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, Prometheus Nemesis Book Co Inc; 1st ed edition (May 1, 1998). ISBN 1885705026.

Decline in popularity

When the theory of the temperaments was on the wane, many critics dropped the phlegmatic, or defined it purely negatively as the absence of temperament. This, however, made it available for the German philosopher Immanuel Kant to reclaim as the temperament appropriate to freedom and virtue. In the Five Temperaments theory, the classical Phlegmatic temperament is in fact deemed to be a neutral temperament, whereas the "relationship-oriented introvert" position traditionally held by the Phlegmatic is declared to be a new "fifth temperament"

Modern adaptations

Christian writer Tim LaHaye has helped repopularize the ancient temperaments beginning in his books The Spirit Controlled Temperament (Illinois: Tyndale Publishing, 1966), Your Temperament: Discover It's Potential (Tyndale Publishing, 1984), and Why You Act the Way You Do (Tyndale Publishing). The latter used illustrations of the temperaments as cartoon characters, "Martin Melancholy", "Sparky Sanguine", "Rocky Choleric" and "Phil Phlegmatic", to help the reader visualize the basic characteristics of the temperaments.

He and a few other psychologists also recognize twelve mixtures of the four temperaments: Mel-Chlor, Chlor-San, San-Phleg, Phleg-Mel, Mel-San, Chlor-Phleg; and the reverse of these: Chlor-Mel, San-Chlor, Phleg-San, Mel-Phleg, San-Mel, and Phleg-Chlor. These represent people who have the traits of two temperaments. The order of temperaments in these pairs was based on which temperament was the "dominant" one (this is usually expressed by percentages). A person can also be a blend of three temperaments. This helps ward off a criticism sometimes made against temperament theory, that a person cannot be pigeonholed into just four types. The combinations expand it past four. Social Styles (David Merrill) and Personality Syles (Tony Allesandra) also have combinations of their versions of the four types, and since the four pure types plus 12 blends total up to 16, these both have been mapped to the MBTI.[1]

In Steiner (Waldorf) education and anthroposophy, the temperaments are used to help understand personality. They are seen as avenues into teaching, with many different types of blends, which can be utilized to help with both discipline and defining the methods used with individual children and class balance.

See also


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