Temperament: Definition, Types, And Disorders

Updated May 04, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

In this post, we will look at temperament in the psychological context. What is it? What are the different types of temperament, and how do they relate to different problems we may face?

What Is Temperament?

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Temperament refers to a set of inborn traits that organizes a child's approach to the world around them. It's an aspect of personality concerned with emotional dispositions and reactions. Temperament is used to describe the prevailing or typical mood or pattern of mood in a person. Temperament is thought to be inborn, but it can be shaped. Temperament influences and shapes how a child responds to something, but not what they do.

The Original Four Temperaments

For a long time, it was thought that people had four different temperaments that could describe them. Philosophers, including Hippocrates, described them quite well. Four temperaments just weren't accurate enough to fully describe nuance. People simply can't be divided into just four types.

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Temperament Traits Today

Temperament can influence how someone behaves, especially in childhood. While how a child is raised can certainly influence and shape their behaviors, there are natural traits they have, and they can all be examined. Today, psychologists look at multiple aspects of temperament. These are:

Activity

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This measures how active someone is. When it comes to children, some will be running around and will always seem to be active. Meanwhile, other children are relaxed and aren't as active.

Regularity

This is how consistent someone is with biological functions. We all know people who go to bed and get up around the same time every day. However, we also know people who are inconsistent with how much they sleep and what time they go to bed. Regularity can apply to appetite and other habits as well.

Approach Versus Withdrawal

Some people are naturally talkative to strangers. Meanwhile, others tend to be shy or to avoid new people altogether. Besides people, this can apply to strangers and other concepts as well. Some people love to try new things, while others stick to what they know.

Adaptability

As you've probably figured out, adaptability is how someone can transition from something they are familiar with to something that is foreign to them. For example, moving to a new place, or adjusting to a loss in the family. Some people can easily adapt and can handle change with grace. Others take a long time to adjust and can struggle for a long time.

Persistence

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Some people are naturally persistent when it comes to pursuing their goals. No matter how many obstacles come their way, no matter how many times they fail, they will keep trying. Meanwhile, others may give up at first sight of a problem, or they may lose interest and try something else.

Intensity

This is how someone reacts to a situation. When faced with a positive or negative stimulus, does the person react calmly, or do they react aggressively?

Distractibility

Some people are easily distracted. Even if they are enjoying the activity, they can still find a way for them to be distracted by something else. Other people can maintain focus even if the activity is not that interesting. Being able to shut down the distractions around you can be great for focusing, but at the same time, one needs to make sure that they aren't letting the world pass them by.

Sensory Threshold

The sensory threshold is the sensitivity one has to a stimulus. Some people, particularly children, become bothered by loud noises, lights, textures in food, and other small details. While others may not be bothered by anything.

Mood

The mood of a person can be biological as well. Someone may always be in a sour mood or be happy all the time. The level of positivity one has can also be determined by biology to some extent. Someone may always look on the bright side of life, while others may always look at everything through a pessimistic lens.

The Three Temperament Types

Chess and Thomas created another theory on temperament. They believed that the traits listed above could be combined to create three types of temperaments. With that said, not everyone fits into these three categories, but it's estimated that 65 percent of children do.

Easy

This temperament, which fits into 40 percent of children, is a flexible or easy temperament. This is when a child has a positive mood for the most part and can adapt to different experiences. They have a routine and can stay calm during pressure.

Difficult

This temperament, which can affect 10 percent of children, is when a child is active, feisty, or difficult to handle. This is when a child always views life negatively and reacts as such. A difficult child may cry a lot, be inconsistent in their routine, and have a hard time adjusting to a new experience. When they are angered or upset, they may have a hard time calming down.

Slow

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This temperament, which can affect 15 percent of children, involves the child feeling as though they must cautious when it comes to new experiences, and they can take a bit to adjust. The child can be negative, but not entirely. They are usually calm in the mood and have low activity.

As mentioned before, not every child will fit into these categories neatly. Many of them may have all of the above. It should also be noted that temperament does not have to be permanent. Even if your genes have favored one trait, you can always adjust your traits and be able to adapt. However, one might need professional help or training to accomplish this.

Now, let's look at some temperament disorders one may have.

Temperament and Personality Disorders

You might have noticed that there is a bit of similarity between 'personality' and 'temperament'. Temperament describes traits that shape how a person approaches the world and personality arises within the person and is separate from temperament. It can help to think of temperament as the canvas and personality as the artwork that goes onto the canvas. It stands to reason that temperament can play a part in the development of personality and other disorders.

Seek Help!

Temperament can be changed, despite its deep roots. You can alter and shape your behaviors with help. If you're concerned about your temperament and its impact on your personality or problems you may be facing, speaking with a licensed counselor can help you to learn important coping skills for navigating situations in life, and learning how your temperament shapes how you think. You can sign up for online counseling by visiting BetterHelp to get connected with a therapist today.


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