What Does Temperament Mean?

Medically Reviewed on 2/2/2023
Types of Temperaments
Understanding temperament is a valuable tool in improving communication, relationships, and personal growth.

The term "temperament" describes a person's innate and often persistent patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It is frequently used to describe a person's innate tendencies, which affect how they react to certain stimuli and situations.

Temperament is frequently believed to be influenced by both heredity and environment, and it can differ greatly from person to person.

  • Some people may have an extroverted and vivacious temperament, whereas others are quiet and introverted.
  • Some people are more prone to worrying or moodiness than others, whereas some people may have a calm temperament.

Temperament is often used to describe and understand individual differences in behavior and personality in psychology and psychiatric research, as well as in daily language. It can help predict how someone may respond to various circumstances and in figuring out the underlying causes of particular actions. It is crucial to understand that temperament is just one facet of a person's personality and does not determine how someone would act in any given circumstance.

What are the types of temperaments?

Several different models have been proposed to classify temperament, yet there is no single widely accepted classification system. 

It's crucial to understand that temperament is a complicated and multifaceted notion and not one classification adequately reflects all the details of a person's personality. The following are only a few of the several methods for analyzing temperament, and there is a continuous discussion regarding which of these is the most reliable or practical.

The four temperaments

This model, which dates to ancient Greek philosophy, proposes that there are four basic temperaments:

  1. Sanguine: These types of individuals tend to be upbeat and social and are characterized by openness, energy, and a love of social interaction. They could be spontaneous and adventurous and struggle to maintain a schedule.
  2. Choleric: These people are known to be impulsive and ambitious and are characterized by aggressiveness, boldness, and a strong sense of drive and ambition. Additionally, they could be more prone to being angry and frustrated and might find it challenging to unwind and take things slowly.
  3. Melancholic: People tend to be gloomy and introverted and are characterized by thoughtfulness, introspection, sensitivity, and a propensity for feelings of sadness and depression. They could be decision-makers who demand absolute excellence.
  4. Phlegmatic: Having a calm and laid-back personality is a hallmark of the phlegmatic temperament. Individuals of this temperament are typically even-tempered and easygoing. They might be better able to adjust and flow with the situation, but they might also be less motivated to take the initiative or work toward their objectives.

The five-factor model of personality

This model proposes that there are five basic dimensions of personality.

  1. Openness: The level of openness reflects an individual's intellectual curiosity, creativity, and willingness to try new things. Being open-minded, inventive, and interested in learning and exploring new ideas are common traits of people who score highly on the openness scale. People with low openness scores might think more conventionally and traditionally.
  2. Conscientiousness: A person's level of responsibility, reliability, and self-control can be gauged by their level of conscientiousness. When it comes to their profession, people who score highly on conscientiousness are typically organized, dependable, and thorough in their work. In contrast, those who score poorly could be more careless and impulsive.
  3. Extroversion: An individual's level of sociability, assertiveness, and tendency to seek out social connections are all indicators of extroversion. Extroverts are more likely to be outgoing, energetic, and assertive than those who score lower, who could be more reserved and introverted.
  4. Agreeableness: Being agreeable reveals a person's degree of generosity, cooperation, and tolerance for compromise. When it comes to agreeableness, those that score highly are typically outgoing, sociable, and easy to get along with, whereas those who score poorly could be more competitive and argumentative.
  5. Neuroticism: A person's tendency to feel unfavorable emotions, such as worry, sadness, and moodiness, is reflected in their neuroticism. People with higher neuroticism scores are more likely to be emotionally reactive and more likely to experience unpleasant emotions, whereas people with lower neuroticism scores may be more emotionally stable and less likely to experience negative emotions.

The EAS temperament model

Buss and Plomin's EAS is a developmental, multidimensional, and causal personality model. This model proposes that there are three basic dimensions of temperament.

  1. Emotional intensity: This dimension represents a person's tendency to feel intense emotions or to have a more levelheaded disposition. People with higher emotional intensity scores are more likely to be emotionally reactive and to have intense emotions more frequently, whereas people with lower emotional intensity scores may be more composed and less sensitive to stimuli.
  2. Activity level: This dimension measures how energetic and active a person is. When it comes to activity level, those who score highly are typically energized and restless, whereas those who score poorly generally are more at ease and composed.
  3. Sensitivity: This dimension describes how sensitive a person is to environmental inputs, such as emotions, physical sensations, and social cues. High scorers tend to be more perceptive and susceptible to environmental factors, whereas low scorers could be less perceptive and more resistant to outside influences.


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What are the 9 traits of temperament?

The following are the nine traits of temperament that are often used to describe an individual's personality.

  1. Activity level: This refers to the amount of energy and activity an individual tends to exhibit in their daily life. Some people may have a high activity level and be energetic and restless, whereas others may have a lower activity level and be calmer and more relaxed.
  2. Rhythmicity: This refers to an individual's tendency to follow a regular schedule and routine or to be more spontaneous and flexible. Some people may have a high degree of rhythmicity and may be very predictable in their behavior, whereas others may be more unpredictable and spontaneous.
  3. Approach/withdrawal: This refers to an individual's tendency to either approach new situations and experiences with curiosity and enthusiasm or withdraw from them with caution or fear. Some people may be more inclined to approach new situations, whereas others may be more inclined to withdraw.
  4. Adaptability: This refers to an individual's ability to adapt to new situations and changes in their environment. Some people are very adaptable and can easily adjust to new circumstances, whereas others have difficulty adapting and are more resistant to change.
  5. Intensity: This refers to an individual's tendency to experience intense emotions or to be more even-tempered. Some people may have a high degree of intensity and can be very emotional, whereas others may be more even-tempered and less reactive to stimuli.
  6. Mood: This refers to an individual's overall emotional state or temperament. Some people may have a generally positive mood, whereas others may have a more negative or gloomy mood.
  7. Sensitivity: This refers to an individual's sensitivity to environmental stimuli, including physical sensations, emotions, and social cues. Some people may be more sensitive and easily affected by their surroundings, whereas others may be less sensitive and more resistant to external influences.
  8. Persistence: This refers to an individual's tendency to persevere in the face of challenges or to give up easily. Some people may be highly persistent and able to work through challenging tasks, whereas others may be more prone to giving up when faced with obstacles.
  9. Distractibility: This refers to an individual's tendency to be easily distracted or to be able to focus for extended periods. Some people may be very distractible and have difficulty maintaining their attention, whereas others may be more able to focus and stay on task.

What is the importance of understanding temperament?

Understanding temperament can be a valuable tool for improving communication, relationships, and personal growth as it can help you understand and appreciate the unique characteristics of different personalities.

A better understanding of temperament can help you in the following ways:

  • Improved communication: Understanding someone's temperament can help you communicate with them more effectively, as you will have a better sense of how they are likely to react to different situations and stimuli. This can be especially helpful in relationships as it can help you anticipate and address potential conflicts or misunderstandings.
  • Greater empathy: This will help you develop greater empathy and understanding of others as you will be better able to appreciate and respect the unique challenges and strengths of different personalities.
  • Better decision-making: This may help make effective decisions as it can give you an insight into your natural tendencies and help you identify situations or environments that may be conducive to your success.
  • Personal growth: Understanding your temperament is beneficial for personal growth as it can help you identify areas where you may need to develop new skills or coping strategies to better manage your emotions and behaviors.

Can you change your temperament?

Temperament is often thought of as an inherent and relatively enduring aspect of an individual's personality, and it is believed to be influenced by genetics and early life experiences. You can change your temperament, but it is not a quick or easy process and may require sustained effort and practice. 

Although it is not possible to completely change your temperament, it is possible to change your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, which can alter how your temperament manifests itself.

  • If you have a temperament that is naturally anxious or prone to negative emotions, you may be able to develop coping strategies and behaviors that will help you manage these emotions more effectively. This could include mindfulness, exercise, or seeking support from friends or a therapist.
  • Similarly, if you have a temperament that is naturally impulsive or prone to making poor decisions, you may be able to develop self-control and decision-making skills that will help you make more thoughtful and deliberate choices.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/2/2023
Image Source: iStock image

Four Temperament: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/four-temperament

The Five Temperament Model: https://lifetrainingcounseling.org/the-five-temperament-model/

The nine traits of temperament: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_nine_traits_of_temperament