What Is The Choleric Temperament?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Our temperament is an assortment of tendencies that can affect how we act, communicate, and view the world. Temperament had a much different connotation millennia ago, though, when a set of four temperaments was developed by the ancient Greeks to classify people and health conditions. One of those temperaments, choleric, was used to describe someone who was quick to anger, motivated, and easily excitable. 

While the theories that gave rise to the four temperaments are no longer considered valid, their categorizations of certain traits still have relevance today and may help explain why we act the way we do. Below, we’re going to discuss the choleric temperament, its defining characteristics, and its potential benefits and drawbacks. 

What are the four temperaments?

The four temperaments were part of a theory of human behavior and health developed by the ancient Greeks. They believed that each person had four different liquids in their bodies, called humors, and that an excess or dearth of these liquids impacted an individual’s health, behaviors, and proclivities.

The four humors—choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic—were originally developed by the physician Hippocrates. The concept of humors was later expanded by the physician Galen, who renamed them temperaments. Though this theory fell out of favor centuries ago, its categorization of different temperaments has informed other theories of behavior, personality, and mental health over the years.

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Below is a brief overview of the four temperaments. 

  • Choleric – Characterized by extroversion and leadership. They are often logical, strong willed, and energetic. The word choleric comes from the Greek word kholerikos, which refers to a bilious liquid. People who were thought to have an excess of this liquid were considered angry, reactive, and impulsive.
  • Sanguine – Marked by a sociable attitude and active personality. They generally think positively and crave social connection. They experience a wide range of emotions and enjoy excitement. They are talkative, fun to be around, impulsive, and often good leaders.
  • Melancholic – A melancholic temperament is characterized by logic and organization. They focus on finding the right solution and are often measured, cautious, and detail oriented. They typically do not enjoy taking risks and prefer to be reassured that things are going well. But they are also often creative and highly capable people.
  • Phlegmatic – Characterized by introversion, peace-making, and stoicism. They are generally comfortable in passive roles. They are also typically resistant to change. 

What the choleric temperament looks like today

While we do not typically categorize people with the four temperaments today, we can apply many of the characteristics of the choleric temperament to certain modern-day personality types. 

People with a choleric temperament can be quick-thinking, influential, competitive, independent, easily annoyed, and prideful. They may be highly engaged and intentional in what they do, whether at work, in social situations, or in relationships. Their words are typically commanding and ordered, even if they are trying to be friendly, which can make them influential and, in turn, successful as leaders.

For this temperament, competition is a big part of how they approach everyday life, so they may react poorly to losing. They often want to prove themselves and may go to great lengths to ensure others are aware of their abilities. When it comes to disagreements, they might believe that proving themselves right is more important than reaching the truth. 

Someone who has a choleric temperament may have issues with authority, even though they themselves may want to be in charge. This can often lead to power struggles and other forms of conflict that might affect their career, relationships, or social life. 

Getty/MoMo Productions

People with this temperament are usually extroverts, and as such, are often energized by spending time with others. They may have the need to have several different social circles, perhaps as a way to exert their influence and express their beliefs and opinions. 

While people with other temperaments may try to temper their opinions to avoid offending others, someone with a choleric temperament might state their opinions directly, without considering the feelings of others. 

People with a choleric temperament are often natural problem-solvers. They can be detail oriented and pragmatic, able to provide logical solutions to problems. They are often visionaries and can grow bored without a challenge. They are often highly motivated and tend to work hard to see a goal to the end. 

People with a choleric temperament can also be prideful. As mentioned before, they may not like to admit that they have flaws and frequently want to be right. Someone who has a choleric temperament can be a good friend to you if you are also supportive of them. However, if you argue with a choleric person, be prepared for them to enjoy the challenge and argue back, possibly in a domineering manner. 

People with the choleric temperament rarely show fear, even if they’re experiencing it internally. Like being wrong, they may have trouble admitting to being vulnerable. 

Differences between temperament and personality

While the two are often conflated, temperament and personality are two different concepts. While temperament is considered a set of inborn traits that typically will not change over the course of an individual’s life, personality can be determined by external factors, such as where an individual lives, how they were raised, and with whom they interact.

What we know about temperament today

Our current knowledge of temperament provides a much more nuanced view of temperament than that proposed by Hippocrates, though the idea that clusters of traits can be used to describe people persists. Today, we know that up to 60% of our temperament is decided by genetics. Our genes help determine how active we are, whether we’re extroverted or introverted, and how likely we are to experience certain mental health conditions. We also know that our temperament generally stays the same throughout our lifetimes. 

A more modern theory of temperament, developed by Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, posits that temperament can be separated into nine different traits. The nine traits of temperament are:

  • Activity level
  • Biological rhythms
  • Sensitivity
  • Intensity of reaction
  • Adaptability
  • Approach/withdrawal
  • Persistence
  • Distractibility
  • Mood

Additionally, temperament is thought to play a part in the five-factor model of personality, also known as the Big Five personality traits. While personality and temperament have different sources and play different parts in our lives, they do overlap in some ways. The Big Five personality traits are extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Some researchers believe that temperament relates to almost all of these traits, with studies showing that the only trait that may not relate to temperament is agreeableness.  

Managing emotions with online therapy

Research shows that online therapy is an effective method of treatment for those who are looking to control emotions that may arise due to a temperament characterized by irritability. For example, in one study, researchers found that online therapy can help individuals control problematic anger in a short period of time. In fact, participants reported decreased anger levels after only four weeks of treatment. 

If you’re feeling stressed, having trouble expressing your anger in a healthy way, or experiencing similar mental health concerns, online therapy can help. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy remotely, without having to deal with potentially frustrating situations like sitting in a waiting room or dealing with traffic. Online therapy is also an affordable option—BetterHelp memberships start at $65 per week (billed every 4 weeks), and you can cancel anytime. A qualified mental health professional can help you understand your temperament and manage emotions it may produce. Read below for reviews of BetterHelp therapists from those who have sought help for similar concerns in the past.

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Therapist reviews

"In my worst times, Robin helped me to focus on what's important in my life and she worked with me to create a strategy to get there. She understood my personality from the get go, and knew how to utilize that in our counseling sessions. I couldn't have asked for a better counselor."

"I have come a long way. With the help of Alexis, I have accomplished things I thought I'd never do. I am glad I did this, it has benefited me so much. With the guidance and encouragement of Alexis, I am more confident in myself and I see a clear path to success and happiness. I have learned to control myself and not doubt myself. It is hard to let go but I know I will be fine and if I need she will still be here for me. Thank you Alexis you have truly helped me change my life. I am so grateful. I wish you the best!"


Your temperament can dictate the way you behave, think, and interact with others. If you have characteristics of a certain temperament, like those related to a choleric temperament, talking to a professional can help you understand how those traits might affect you. With the guidance and insights of a licensed therapist, you can learn more about your thoughts, actions, and emotions as you work to improve your mental health.
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