Temperament Theory


Book cover - Temperaments

Temperament theory describes four organizing patterns of personality and is based in descriptions of behavior that go back over twenty-five centuries. It tells us the "why" of behavior, our motivators, and sources of deep psychological stress. Knowing our temperament patterns tells us our core needs and values as well as the talents we are more likely to be drawn to develop.

Brief History of the Four Temperaments

The human community can be regarded as a system, holistic in nature, seeking survival. Throughout the ages, observers of human behavior have repeatedly identified four major patterns or configurations of behavior. Such holistic sorting of behavior patterns has been recorded for at least twenty-five centuries.

In 450 b.c., Hippocrates described four such dispositions he called temperaments-a choleric temperament with an ease of emotional arousal and sensitivity; a phlegmatic temperament with cool detachment and impassivity; a melancholic temperament with a very serious, dour, and downcast nature; and a sanguine temperament full of impulsivity, excitability, and quick reactivity. 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.

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.

Two German psychologists, Ernst Kretschmer and Eduard Spränger, were among the few to continue to view individuals holistically in terms of patterns. Inspired by their work, David Keirsey noted common themes in the various observations and the consistent tendency of human behavior to sort itself into four similar patterns, which he called temperaments. Since 1980, Linda Berens, a contemporary psychologist/consultant, has expanded and applied temperament theory in many settings. She found they do indeed describe the basic ways human personality interacts with the environment to satisfy its needs. This long history gives us a solid foundation for believing these patterns exist, and indeed new scientific evidence supports this belief. Now, how do you find out which pattern fits you?


The Catalyst™ Temperament
(Diplomatic Skill Set)


The core needs are for the meaning and significance that come from having a sense of purpose and working toward some greater good. They need to have a sense of unique identity. They value unity, self-actualization, and authenticity. People of this temperament prefer cooperative interactions with a focus on ethics and morality. They tend to trust their intuition and impressions first and then seek to find the logic and the data to support them. Given their need for empathic relationships, they learn more easily when they can relate to the instructor and the group.

The Stabilizer™ Temperament
(Logistical Skill Set)


The core needs are for group membership and responsibility. They need to know they are doing the responsible thing. They value stability, security, and a sense of community. They trust hierarchy and authority and may be surprised when others go against these social structures. People of this temperament prefer cooperative actions with a focus on standards and norms. Their orientation is to their past experiences, and they like things sequenced and structured. They tend to look for the practical applications of what they are learning.

The Theorist™ Temperament
(Strategic Skill Set)


The core needs are for mastery of concepts, knowledge, and competence. People of this temperament want to understand the operating principles of the universe and to learn or even develop theories for everything. They value expertise, logical consistency, concepts, and ideas and seek progress. They tend toward pragmatic, utilitarian actions with a technology focus. They trust logic above all else. They tend to be skeptical and highly value precision in language. Their learning style is conceptual, and they want to know the underlying principles that generate the details and facts rather than the details alone.

The Improviser™ Temperament
(Tactical Skill Set)

The core needs are to have the freedom to act without hindrance and to see a marked result from action. People of this temperament highly value aesthetics, whether in nature or art. Their energies are focused on skillful performance, variety, and stimulation. They tend toward pragmatic, utilitarian actions with a focus on technique. They trust their impulses and have a drive to action. They learn best experientially and when they see the relevance of what they are learning to what they are doing. They enjoy hands-on, applied learning with a fast pace and freedom to explore.



  • Abstract versus Concrete language-The way we tend to think about things and the way we use words
  • Affiliative versus Pragmatic roles-The way we prefer to interact with others
  • Structure versus Motive focus-Where we focus our attention when interacting

These dynamics are always operating in a situation, and if we become polarized along these dimensions as we interact with others, communication can become extremely difficult. However, we need to remember that we have at least one thing in common with every temperament.

Catalyst™ & Theorist™
have in common

Abstract/Catalyst™ic - Symbolic awareness, The mind's eye
Stabilizer™ & Improviser™
have in common

Concrete/Realistic - Experiential awareness, The body's eye
Catalyst™& Stabilizer™
have in common

Affiliation/Sanction - Want everyone to work within the norms or values of the
Theorist™ & Improviser™
have in common

Autonomy/Pragmatism - Want to control own actions to meet goals
Catalyst™ & Improviser™
have in common

Motive - Focus on why people do things.
Theorist™ & Stabilizer™
have in common

Structure - Focus on order and organization.


Temperament and the 16 Personality Types




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