Temperament Theory

Centuries old understanding with immediate impact.

The Why

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.

Key Sections

  • History
  • 4 Temperaments
  • Things-in-Common

Applications/ResourcesInformation on this page has been adapted from Linda V. Berens, Understanding Yourself and Others®: An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments—3.0 (Telos Publications, 2006)  Used with permission. Click here to download a pdf of using the Animal Metaphors with temperament.

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, a modern psychologist, David Keirsey, noted common themes in the various observations and the consistent tendency of human behavior to sort itself into four similar patterns. Linda Berens continues to expand our understanding of the four temperaments through her unique contributions; including the core needs, values, talents, and behaviors of the four temperament patterns—as illustrated by the Temperament Targets™. These four major patterns are referred to as temperaments. They describe the ways human personality interacts with the environment to satisfy its needs.

The Four Temperament Patterns

People of the Catalyst™ Temperament . . .

 (Diplomatic Skill Set)

Want to be authentic, benevolent, and empathic. Search for identity, meaning, and significance. Are relationship oriented, particularly valuing meaningful relationships. Tend to be idealistic and visionary, wanting to make the world a better place. Look to the future. Trust their intuition, imagination, and impressions. Focus on developing potential, fostering and facilitating growth through coaching, teaching, counseling, and communicating. Generally are enthusiastic. Think in terms of integration and similarities and look for universals. Often are gifted in the use of metaphors to bridge different perspectives. Usually are diplomatic. Frequently are drawn to work that inspires and develops people and relationships.

People of the Stabilizer™ Temperament . . .

(Logistical Skill Set)

Want to fit in, to have membership. Hunger for responsibility, accountability, and predictability. Tend to be generous, to serve, and to do their duty. Establish and maintain institutions and standard operating procedures. Tend to protect and preserve, to stand guard and warn. Look to the past and tradition. Foster enculturation with ceremonies and rules. Trust contracts and authority. Want security and stability. Think in terms of what is conventional, comparisons, associations, and discrete elements. Generally are serious, concerned, and fatalistic. Usually are skilled at ensuring that things, information, and people are in the right place, in the right amounts, in the right quality, at the right time. Frequently gravitate toward business and commerce.

People of the Theorist™ Temperament . . .

(Strategic Skill Set)

Want knowledge and to be competent, to achieve mastery. Seek expertise to understand how the world and things in it work. Are theory oriented. See everything as conditional and relative. Are oriented to the infinite. Trust logic and reason. Want to have a rationale for everything. Are skeptical. Think in terms of differences, delineating categories, definitions, structures, and functions. Hunger for precision, especially in thought and language. Usually are skilled at long-range planning, inventing, designing, and defining. Generally are calm. Foster individualism. Frequently gravitate toward technology and the sciences. Tend to be well suited for engineering and devising strategy, whether in the social sciences or physical sciences.

People of the Improviser™ Temperament . . .

 (Tactical Skill Set)

Want the freedom to choose the next act. Seek to have impact, to get results. Want to be graceful, bold, and impressive. Generally are excited and optimistic. Are absorbed in the action of the moment. Are oriented toward the present. Seek adventure and stimulation. Hunger for spontaneity. Trust impulses, luck, and their ability to solve any problem they run into. Think in terms of variation. Have a talent for noticing and describing rich detail, constantly seeking relevant information. Like freedom to move, festivities, and games. Tend to be natural negotiators. Seize opportunities. Usually are gifted tacticians, deciding the best move to make in the moment, the expedient action to take. Are frequently drawn to all kinds of work that requires variation on a theme.

Things-in-Common

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 that they prefer Abstract/Idealistic language and tend to have a symbolic, conceptual awareness. 

Stabilizer™ & Improviser™ have in common that they prefer Concrete/Realistic language and tend to have an
experiential awareness. 

Catalyst™& Stabilizer™ have in common that they prefer Affiliation or Sanction and want everyone to work within the norms or values of the group.    

Theorist™ & Improviser™ have in common that they prefer Autonomy or Pragmatism and want to control their own actions to meet goals.

Catalyst™ & Improviser™ have in common that they tend to focus on Motives or why people do things.   

Theorist™& Stabilizer™ have in common that they tend to focus on Structure  or order and organization.