Temperament: Definition, Types, And Disorders

Updated January 28, 2021

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 traits that organize a your approach to the world around you. It's an aspect of personality concerned with emotional dispositions and reactions. Temperament is used to describe the prevailing or typical mood in a person. Some believe temperament isindivisible from who you are and present from birth. Others believe it is completely learnedand can be shaped. Temperament itself influences and shapes how a child lives their life and grows.

The Original Four Temperaments

For a long time, it was thought that people had four different temperaments that could describe them. Philosophers, including Hippocrates, have postulated these distinctions over the years. But it has been clear for some time that four temperaments justaren't accurate enough to fully describe the nuance in personalities. People can't be accurately divided into just four types of temperament.

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Temperament Traits Today

Temperament can influence how someone behaves, especially in childhood. How a child is raised certainly influences and shapestheir behaviors.But everyone is also born with natural traits and dispositions. 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 more relaxed than others.

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 temperament can apply to other concepts as well, like traveling or trying new things. 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 know to something that is foreign to them. For example, an adaptable person has less difficulty 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. The second they encounter difficulty, 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? Some react to big news or changes with barely a shrug. For others, the smallest variation in their day will produce a huge reaction.

Distractibility

Some people are easily distracted. Even if they are enjoying the activity, they can still find a way to get 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, you need to make sure that you aren't letting the world pass you 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. Others, meanwhile, 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

The psychologists Stella Chess and Alexander 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, these three categories do not apply exhaustively to the human race. They only describe common patterns.It's estimated that about 65 percent of children could be described by one of Thomas’ and Chess’ temperaments. They are:

Easy

This temperament, which describes about 40 percent of children, indicates a person is flexible or easygoing. 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, whichapplies to roughly 10 percent of children, describes when a kid 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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The slow temperament, which can affect about 15 percent of children, involves the child feeling as though they must be cautious when it comes to new experiences. They can take a bit of time to adjust. The child can be negative, but not entirely. They are usually calm in mood and have low activity levels.

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 is not necessarily permanent. Even if your genes have favored one trait, you can always adjust your temperament and be able to adapt. One might, however, need professional help or training to accomplish this.

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. 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!

There are also cases in which people can develop mental illness involving their temperament.Or, if someone you know develops a mental illness, you might notice their temperament shift.

If issues regarding temperament occur—either your own or that of others—you might want to consider online counseling. An increasing number of people are turning to online therapy for its treatment, convenience, and accessibility. Some are still skeptical about the ability of a mental health professional to provide treatment through digital communications. Those doubts, luckily, are unfounded. Research over the past several years has continually shown online therapy delivers the same results as in-person treatment.

If you are concerned with how your temperament has developed, don’t worry. 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 life, speaking with a licensed counselor can help you to learn important coping skills. A therapist can help you navigate patterns of situations in your life. They can help you realize how your temperament shapes how you think. You can sign up for online counseling by visiting BetterHelp to get connected with a therapist today. Read what others have to say about their experience with BetterHelp counselors below.

“Tamara Nixon is the first therapist that I feel really took interest in me, on a deeper level. Other therapists I went to were focused mainly on my problems, but not at all on my personal interests and hobbies and I feel this is really important in them understanding my personality and my likes/dislikes. Also I appreciate that she is proactive and she sends me things to read and worksheets to work on. I really feel safe with telling her about my issues.”

“Joy noticed aspects of my personality right away, and suggested a task-based plan that had clear goals for each step. She helped me isolate topics and stay focused when things were stressful and jumbled up in my mind. Her handle on the BetterHelp website is incredible--she has worksheets and goal marks and is very communicative via the chat. She made me feel heard from even my daily journals. Her attentive care was firm and self-assured, which helped me feel like I am in control of my life again.”


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