Temperament: Definition, Types, And Disorders

Updated January 02, 2019

In this post, we will look at temperament in the psychological context. What is it? What are the types of temperament, and the disorders that can be created from it? Let's find out.

What Is Temperament?

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Temperament is the differences between people that are based in biology. When it comes to differences, sometimes they can be due to their learning, attitude, and values. Temperament looks at the biological basis.

Despite temperament having a definition, some people cannot agree on what the smaller aspects of it are. There have been many ways to classify and break down temperament.

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. These include:


This is someone who is extroverted. They are active, social, and always enthusiastic about something. They want to be the life of the party, and they can easily be able to accomplish any social behavior. Someone who is sanguine has a tough time being alone and can take risks to feel satisfied with one's self.


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These are also extroverted people, but they are more logical and have a goal they want to accomplish. They are the group leaders who want to accomplish their dreams. They are people who try to see the world based on facts, rather than speculation.


Someone who is melancholic is more introverted. They are focused on the details, always analyzing things, and they are always the thinker. Someone who is melancholic does not want to be part of the crowd, and instead, they want to rely on themselves. Talking to people can make them anxious. Since they believe that perfection is key, they may not want to talk to people for fear of messing up.


Someone who is phlegmatic is relaxed, easygoing, and always able to be peaceful with their surroundings. These people care a lot about others, but they have a hard time expressing their emotions. They want to try to solve the problems by diplomacy and to try to reach a middle ground.

While the original four temperaments are interesting when it comes to measuring one's self, there is a lot more nuance, and you can't divide people into just four types.

Temperament Traits

Temperament can influence how someone behaves, especially in childhood. While how the child is raised can certainly influence their behaviors, there are natural traits they have, and they can all be examined. These are:


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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 don't run around as much.


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.


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.


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Some people are naturally persistent when it comes to pursuing their goal. 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.


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? It will all depend on the person, to be honest.


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.


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. 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 that one has 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.


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.


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.


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This temperament, which can affect 15 percent of children, involves the child feel as though they 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 department 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

As you have probably realized, there are quite a few personality disorders that can be shaped by one's temperament. However, it should be noted that just because you have a certain temperament does not you are going to develop a personality disorder.

Perhaps the biggest link to temperament and personality disorder has to be a borderline personality disorder. In this disorder, it can impact how you look at everyone and yourself. You may not be able to keep relationships, you may go through swinging extreme emotions, and you may feel more impulsive. You feel like you will be abandoned, and the idea of being alone can make you upset. However, because you are extremely moody, you may have a hard time being able to keep a relationship.

You can see how someone's natural temperament causes something like this. However, many personality disorders have different causes. It can be nature; it can be nurtured, or a combination of both. Just because you have a certain temperament does not mean that's who you are as a person. People are complex, and while temperament types are a convenient way to organize how we feel and who we are, they are not without their faults. People can have many traits of a certain temperament, and yet none at all.

Seek Help!

If you believe your temperament cannot be changed, this is not the case. You can be able to be more social, or less emotional, but it requires training. Your biology can make you prone to certain behaviors, but you can be able to control yourself.

One way you can do so is by speaking to a counselor. A counselor can figure out what temperament you are and tell you how you can control your emotions. Speak to a counselor today and see what they can do for you. Odds are, you can change.

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