4 Temperaments

One of the best known ways of categorising
human temperament was established by
Hippocrates, who was considered the father
of medicine. His method is now commonly
referred to as The Four Temperaments.


The Basics

Hippocrates based his temperament types on four basic fluids of the body (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm – charming, huh?) also known as ‘humours’. These were later referred to as Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy and Phlegmatic. Hippoctrates considered that certain behaviours were consistent with each particular body fluid, and that each person’s fluids were consistent, producing the behaviours that were seen. [1][2]

These characteristics can be attributed to children or adults, and here we look at general characteristics for each temperament. Included are also general indicators for how to recognise the temperaments in different age brackets.

Temperaments Distinguishing Human Behaviour


  • Focused on what needs to happen and has little concern for anything between them and their goal. [1]
  • A person who is choleric is a doer and a leader. They have a lot of ambition, energy and passion, and try to instill it in others. They can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic mililtary and political figures were cholerics. On the negative side, they are easily angered or bad-tempered. Known as the fiery temperament. [2]
  • Positives: not easily discouraged, optimistic, leader, team player, decisive, adventurous.
    Negatives: self-sufficient, impetuous, cruel, hot-tempered. [3]
  • The Powerful Personality – extrovert, leader, optimist, desires control. [4]
    • Babies
      Positives: determined look, adventuresome, energetic, outgoing, precocious.
      Negatives: strong-willed, demanding, loud and shrill, throws things, not sleepy.
    • Children
      Positives: born leader, daring and eager, productive worker, sees the goal, moves quickly, self-sufficient, competitive, assertive, trustworthy.
      Negatives: controls parents, manipulative, temper tantrums, constantly moving, insists on own way, tests control, argumentative, stubborn, defiant.
    • Teens
      Positives: aggressive, competent, organises quickly, assumes leadership, problem solver, self-confident, stimulates others, excels in emergencies, great potential, responsible.
      Negatives: too bossy, contnrols friends, knows everything, looks down on dummies, unpopular at times, decides for all, insulting, judgmental, unrepentant, blames others.
    • Adults [5]
      Emotional Needs: loyalty from the troops, sense of control, appreciation, credit for good works.
      Causes of Depression: life is out of control; problems with money, job, mate, childrne or health.
      Stress Relief: work harder, exercise more, stay away from unyielding situations.
      Energy Level: highest energy, needs little reset, thrives on people to control.


  • Focused on the why, usually looking for the fun in something, and will create the fun if necessary; ‘idea’ oriented.  [1]
  • A person who is sanguine is generally light-hearted and fun-loving; a people person who loves to entertain, spontaneous and confident. Sanguines will have many friends. They can be arrogant, cocky and indulgent. They can also be day-dreamy and off-task, to the point of not accomplishing anything. They can be impulsive, acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion. Known as the airy temperament. [2]
  • Positives: enjoying, optimistic, friendly
    Negatives: weak-willed, restless, egotistical, emotionally unstable. [3]
  • The Popular Personality – extrovert, talker, optimist, desires fun. [4]
    • Babies
      Positives: bright and wide eyed, amusing and adorable, gurgles and coos, shows off, responsive to people.
      Negatives: screams for attention, knows he or she is cute, needs constant company, gets into trouble, self-centred.
    • Children
      Positives: engaging personality, daring and eager, innocent-appearing, cheerful and enthusiastic, fun-loving, bounces back quickly, energised by people.
      Negatives: no follow-through, disorganised, easily distracted, short interest span, emotional ups and downs, wants credit, forgetful and fidgety, exaggerates.
    • Teens
      Positives: cheerleader type, charms others, gets daring, joins clubs, popular, life of the party, creative and colourful, wants to please, apologises quickly.
      Negatives: deceptive, creative excuses, easily led astray, craves attention, needs peer approval, con-artist potential, finds studying dull, immature, no sense of money.
    • Adults [5]
      Emotional Needs: attention from all, affection, touching, approval of every deed, acceptance as is.
      Causes of Depression: life is no fun, no hope for the future, feeling unloved.
      Stress Relief: go shopping, party with friends, eat to cheer up.
      Energy Level: energised by people, high frenetic pace, has periods of exhaustion.


  • Focused on who is involved and concerned for everybody’s benefit. When the people are okay, then they are okay.  [1]
  • Phlegmatics are generally calm and unemotional, self-content and kind, but their shy personality can inhibit enthusiasm in others and make themselves lazy and resistant to change. They are very consistent, relaxed, rational, cuirous and observant, making them good administrators and diplomats. Like the sanguine personality, the phlegmatic has many firends, however the phlegmatic is more reliable and compassionate, typically making the phlegmatic a more dependable friend. Known as the fluid, flowing temperament. [2]
  • Positives: good under pressure, witty, dependable, enjoys humour
    Negatives: indolent, teasing, stubborn, indecisive [3]
  • The Peaceful Personality – introvert, follower, pessimist, desires peace. [4]
    • Babies
      Positives: easy-going, undemanding, happy, adjustable.
      Negatives: slow, shy and withdrawn, indifferent, unresponsive.
    • Children
      Positives: watches others, easily amused, little trouble, dependable, lovable, agreeable, relaxed.
      Negatives: selfish, indecisive, avoids work, fearful, quietly stubborn, lazy and sleepy, retreats to tv.
    • Teens
      Positives: pleasing personality, witty humour, good listener, mediates problems, hides motions, leads when pushed, casual attitude.
      Negatives: indecisive, unenthusiastic, too compromising, unmotivated, sarcastic, uninvolved, procrastinates.
    • Adults [5]
      Emotional Needs: peace and quiet, feeling of worth, lack of stress, respect for who he/she is.
      Causes of Depression: life is in chaos, should confront issues, pressure to produce.
      Stress Relief:tune out on life, turn on the television, eat and sleep.
      Energy Level: lowest energy level, needs much rest, drained by people.


  • Focused on how things happen, seeks to understand and process. Process grounds them; ‘task’ oriented.  [1]
  • Often very kind and considerate,melancholics can be highly creative, but can also become overly pre-occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world. The temperament is also often a perfectionist, being very particular about what they want and how they want it in some cases. This can result in them being unsatisfied with their own articsic or creative works, and always pointing out to themselves what could and should be improved.  Known as they earthy temperament. [2]
  • Positives: faithful friend, self-sacrificing
    Negatives: moody, self-centred, critical, pessimistic [3]
  • The Perfect Personality – introvert, thinker, pessimist, desires perfection. [4]
    • Babies
      Positives: wants to please, serious and quiet, well-behaved, likes a schedule.
      Negatives: dislikes strangers, looks sad, cries easily, clings to parents.
    • Children
      Positives: thinks deeply, talented, musical or artistic, daydreams, true friend, perfectionist, intense, dutiful and responsible.
      Negatives: moody, whines and fusses, self-conscious, too sensitive, hears negatives, withdraws, sees problems, won’t communicate.
    • Teens
      Positives: good student, creative – likes research, organised and purposeful, high standards, conscientious and on time, neat and orderly, sensitive to others, sweet spirit
      Negatives: too perfectionistic, depressed and critical, inferiority complex, suspicioius of people, poor self-image, revengeful, lives through friends, needs to be uplifted.
    • Adults [5]
      Emotional Needs: sensitive and understanding, support when down, space to be alone, silence with no people around.
      Causes of Depression: life isn’t perfect, emotional pain is unbearable, lack of understanding.
      Stress Relief: withdraw from people; read, study, meditate or pray; go to bed.
      Energy Level: moderate energy, drained by people, needs peace and quiet.

Keirsey’s Interpretation

In 1978, psychologist David Keirsey co-authored with Marilyn Bates, a book called Please Understand Me. In it, he made use of the four temperaments and sixteen character types in a slightly different presentation. Keirsey wrote extensively about his system of four temperaments and sixteen role variants.[6]

In many ways, I related to Keirsey’s explanations, with regard to my child, more than with any of the other models – you may too, or you may find something else entirely fits best with your own understanding. 🙂

Here, we look at an overview of the Keirsey temperaments: [7]

  • Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of, and they’re careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others.
  • Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people, and they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics.
  • Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on, and they will do whatever works, whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules.
  • Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision, and always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be.

Keirsey’s 16 character types link up with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, too, which provides a useful correlation between the two, for those who are interested. [8]

  • The Guardian may be Supervisor (ESTJ), Inspector (ISTJ), Provider (ESFJ) or Protector (ISFJ)
  • The Idealist may be Teacher (ENFJ), Counselor (INFJ), Champion (ENFP) or Healer (INFP)
  • The Artisan may be Promoter (ESTP), Crafter (ISTP), Performer (ESFP) or Composer (ISFP)
  • The Rational may be Fieldmarshal (ENTJ), Mastermind (INTJ), Inventor (ENTP) or Architect (INTP)

You can read more about Keirsey’s work with the four temperaments, and specifically his Keirsey Temperament Sorter, by going direct to Keirsey.com.

More Articles on 4 Temperaments

  • Wikipedia article on the Four Temperaments
  • Fisheaters – a Roman Catholic website using some religious terminology and context in its exploration of the history of the four temperaments.
  • Hubpages – brief overview of each temperament, including a downloadable test page
  • AdvisorTeam – Keirsey’s adaptation and use of the four temperaments

Free Online 4 Temperaments Testing

  • OneIshy – uses radio buttons to select one word per line, with results emailed and the option of no additional emials.
  • Writing.com Temperament Test – scroll down past overviews of types to online quiz.
  • Keirsey Test – free test using David Keirsey’s adaptation of the four temperaments.


Every person will have a mixture of traits, but according to the experts, we all have one ‘type’ that is dominant.

These insights are tools which aid insight into why we and our loved ones act as we do – these traits are thought to be our innate leanings. Encourage the positives and train the negatives.

A strong will, for example, coupled with wisdom and insight, is a powerful tool – mixed with foolishness and ignorance, however, it’s a dreadful enemy. The same can be said for many of the traits listed here. A weak, untrained will, in contrast, can be a road to distruction, or, with training, wisdom and insight, it can provide gracious insight and good balance for others. Any trait can prove to be a best friend or a worst enemy, depending on what is done with it.

Temperament lies behind mood; behind will,
lies the fate of character. Then behind both,
the influence of family the tyranny of culture;
and finally the power of climate and
environment; and we are free, only to
the extent we rise above these.
~ John Burroughs


[1] Ezine article by Zara Green
[2] Wikipedia article The Four Temperaments
[3] “Spirit Controlled Temperament” by Tim La Haye, (C) Post Inc. 1966,
….. ISBN 0 902088 36 X, pp 147 &148.
[4] “Why Do I Feel /the Way I Do?” by Fred & Florence Littauer, Keir
….. (C) Florence Littauer 1993, ISBN 185424 468 X, pp.103-106
[5] “Why Do I Feel /the Way I Do?” by Fred & Florence Littauer,
….. (C) Florence Littauer 1993, ISBN 185424 468 X, p. 114
[6] Wikipedia article: David Keirsey
[7] Keirsey.com – The Four Temperaments: Overview
[8] Keirsey.com – The Keirsey Temperament Sorter