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The 4 Temperaments

Did you know that all of the major personality types and tests – including Myers-Briggs, Big Five types, Neo Pi-R, and Projective measures – share a common ancestor? It dates back to Ancient Greece and unravels some of the key psychological concepts still used today. It was called the ‘four temperaments’ theory, and is the oldest proto-psychological theory known.

The origin of the four temperaments can be traced back to Hippocrates, who described a person’s temperament as being closely related to the fundamental bodily fluids of blood, yellow bile, phlegm and black bile. It was thought that having these out of balance could cause illness. This concept was widely known as humorism. Ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine bore striking similarities to the humors, but called them “doshas” and listed 3 types, not 4. A bit later in history, this temperament theory was further promoted by Galen, a doctor from the Roman empire. He built upon it and distinguished the 4 types we are going to discuss in this article.

The temperaments have been widely scorned by modern psychology and science, but still remain widespread among self-help and spirituality practitioners. If you want to know your temperament type, you can easily find a temperament test online to get the answer (keep reading for some good resources).

How the temperaments relate to Myers-Briggs

The 4 Temperaments

The four temperaments have shaped many of today’s modern personality tests and theories (for example Dr. Helen Fisher’s personality types are strikingly similar to the temperaments), and the sixteen Myers-Briggs types are no different. Even though they are based on Jung’s theory, four of the sixteen MBTI types are the close representatives of each one pure temperament type out of the 4 temperament ones. The other twelve can be described as variations of mixed temperaments. If you enjoy the four-letter personality type Myers-Briggs style, it can be a curious challenge to try and pinpoint which combination corresponds to the subsequent temperament type. If you give up, here is a hint:

To further help you figure out your classical personality type, here is a list of the mixed temperaments(the predominant temperament is first, the secondary is second):

Some curiosities about the 4 temperaments

The temperaments have made their mark throughout history, including shaping many of the personality theories we know and abide by today. But did you also know that…

  • Notable psychologists who were influenced by the temperaments include Immanuel Kant, Rudolf Steiner, Alfred Adler, Erich Adickes, Eduard Spranger (1914) and more.
  • The 4 temperaments are associated with colors: choleric is red, phlegmatic is green, yellow is for sanguine and blue is melancholic.
  • Dividing the temperaments by elements would look like this: fire for choleric, water for phlegmatic, air for sanguine and earth for melancholic.
  • The temperament types served as inspiration to a number of artists and composers throughout history: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (symphony), Émile Zola (writing) and Carl Nielsen (symphony)

Now that you are all warmed up, let’s unravel the mystery of the human psyche, one temperament at a time.

The 4 temperaments, explained

Human beings are peculiar creatures. They are both very similar behavior wise to one another, from an evolutionary standpoint, but still have enough individual differences to make their lives more interesting. The 4 temperaments are a very good representation of this nuanced difference in human behavior – and offer a deep insight into the contrast that differs from personality trait to personality trait.

Let’s dive in.

Choleric

The 4 Temperaments Choleric

Type: Extrovert

The choleric personality is the extreme goal-oriented and logical temperament type. These people are very analytical, logical and ambitious, with leadership tendencies. Very extroverted, they are hard working individuals, known for accomplishing whatever they set their mind to. The choleric definition is of intelligent, independent and determined people, who are high-achievers, driven not only to acquire but also to master large amounts of information. They are self-sufficient, logical and value reason. While choleric types have a desire to know everything, they also tend to question anything. Their keen interest in investigation, and questioning makes them great researchers and inventors.

Known as “the doer,” the choleric is the most insensitive of all the temperament types. Given their extreme practicality and straightforwardness, they aren’t particularly regarded as good companions or very friendly types. Even if the temperaments are not an exact science, traits can be useful and predict things about people. Bossy and critical, choleric personalities have a particular dislike for small talk and instead can be entangled in deep conversations for hours. Nothing turns them off faster than being in the company of small-minded and shallow people — in such cases they’d rather be alone. Choleric people do not have many friends and are prone to intense mood swings.

The choleric temperament is very aggressive and dominant. They are sceptical of everything and it’s not easy to gain their trust — they feel a need to do their own investigation regarding the way things work, in order to make their mind up about them. Work tends to absorb their full attention to the point that they become unresponsive to the outside world. They are decisive, systemize everything and must correct wrongs wherever they see fit. Ideally, the choleric personality likes to be in charge of everything and having someone control them does not sit well.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The choleric personality is one of the more difficult and hard to understand temperament examples. Their qualities, however, can be very useful if put to work in the right way.

Strengths:

  1. Diligent and hard-working
  2. Goal-oriented, with unbreakable focus
  3. Strong-willed and confident
  4. Organized and not easily discouraged
  5. See the whole picture

Weaknesses:

  1. Unable to relax
  2. Easily angered and enjoy arguments
  3. Impatient and bossy
  4. Unsympathetic
  5. Too impetuous

Career paths

The choleric personality profile has a knack for control, so it should come as no surprise that they are best suited for jobs that demand strong authority, fast decisions and uninterrupted attention. Some categories that meet this criteria are:

  • business
  • management
  • engineering
  • programming

Statistics

  • The choleric type makes up only about 12% of the general population.
  • Female cholerics are the most rare of all temperament-gender combinations, at just 3% of all people.
  • Many notable thinkers, inventors and scientists have belonged to the choleric temperament.

Melancholic

The 4 Temperaments Melancholic

Type: Introvert

Heavy traditionalists, melancholic people’s biggest value are their families and friends, and unlike the sanguine type, they aren’t on the lookout for thrills or adventure. On the contrary, they avoid it as much as possible. The perfect melancholy temperament is set in his ways, doesn’t take unnecessary risks and is motivated by a need to maintain security. They are realistic, routinized administrators requiring tasks to be completed correctly and that people behave appropriately. When a need arises, they are quick to provide a solution, provided that the need is justified. It is not impulse that drives a melancholic person — it is concrete facts.

Often referred to as “the thinker,” the melancholic type is extremely thoughtful, which naturally makes them deep-thinkers, good at analyzing complex problems in detail. They are organized, tidy, neat, abide by strict work ethic, always finish what they start and are very focused on the task at hand. The melancholic personality profile is good with charts, graphs and any other way of graphically showing and assimilating information. However, next to thinking too much, they also feel too much, often tending to lean to the pessimistic side.

Melancholic people can also be very perfectionist-oriented, especially when it comes down to their own lives. They are serious, reliable, self-sacrificing, philosophical, ordered and prone to genius. A common cause for angst is the often high standard they set for themselves — one that can hardly be achieved by anyone. People with the melancholic personality can be too hard on themselves at times for not being able to meet their own criteria, which can feed their depression. They also tend to take life way too seriously and this often makes them feel hopeless and dissatisfied. Sometimes they also suffer from low-self image and tend to be shy wallflowers, rather than someone who would boast about their qualities.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Melancholic people aren’t only sad and thoughtful. Here are some more examples of temperament traits that they have, both good and bad:

Strengths:

  1. Deep and thoughtful
  2. Faithful and devoted friend
  3. Good and empathetic listener
  4. Strong moral compass
  5. Not easily upset

Weaknesses:

  1. Moody and depressive
  2. Extremely self-critical and perfectionistic
  3. Pessimistic, enjoys seeing the negativity in the world
  4. Sets very high, unachievable standards
  5. Tendency toward hypochondria

Career paths

The melancholic definition is of people who are deeply caring and seek to help and improve their community the best they can. A thinker and perfectionist, extremely accurate, reliable and thorough, they can also easily tap into others’ feelings and easily pinpoint what is required to help them out. Therefore, the best careers for people of this type are ones in the fields of:

  • Social work
  • Medicine
  • Teaching
  • Administration
  • Accounting

Statistics

  • The melancholic personality type makes up about 41% of the general population.
  • There are slightly more females with a melancholic temperament than there are male (37.5% of males, 43.5% of females).
  • More American Presidents have belonged to the melancholic type than any other temperament.

Sanguine

The 4 Temperaments Sanguine

Type: Extrovert

The sanguine personality can be best defined as the life of the party. These people are lively, optimistic and pulsate with energetic enthusiasm. They are primarily driven by fun and have low tolerance to boredom. This temperament is best described as an energetic labrador retriever — this is the embodiment of everything that the sanguine temperament represents. They love adventure and will not miss an opportunity that may prove to be thrilling, pleasing or otherwise valuable. Sanguine people are laid back, open-minded and love to feel alive. Driven by their curiosity and playfulness, they are willing to try almost anything. The sanguine definition is of likable and popular people, who live to tell a good story or joke. They have a tendency toward athletics and anything that involves creating or crafting.

Extreme extroverts, sanguine people are often called “the talker.” Highly communicative, making friends comes as easy to them as breathing air. Energetic and creative, they are sincere and a forever-child at heart. This hyperactivity however can be bad in some respects, such as being late, forgetful, disorganized and struggling with completing tasks. However, their love for people and interest in business makes them gifted negotiators. Sanguine types usually do not enjoy elaborate discussions or analysis.

The sanguine temperament has a dangerous edge to it as well. Since they are impulsive thrill-seekers and have a high risk tolerance, this can lead to them experimenting with dangerous behaviors more often than other types. They may be more prone to addiction given their pleasure-seeking side, or to have problems with overeating and weight gain.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Even if science disdains to rate personality according to several traits, the strengths and weaknesses still portray a good picture of the archetypical representative of a given temperament type. For the sanguine temperament these are:

Strengths:

  1. Friendly and approachable
  2. Quick to turn a stranger into a friend
  3. Master communicator and entertainer
  4. Willingness to lend a helping hand, compassionate
  5. Not too picky and extremely easy-going

Weaknesses:

  1. Gets easily angered and controlled by circumstances
  2. Difficulty dealing with boring, repetitive tasks
  3. Must be around people and can’t stand being alone
  4. Compulsive talker, can’t shut up
  5. Too happy and energetic for some

Career paths

The sanguine personality profile is bursting with creativity and can’t sit still for extended periods of time. They are fantastic at entertaining others and jobs in that industry suit them like a glove. Their natural charm and love for communication will be put to good use if they pick a job in the field of:

  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Writing
  • Comedy
  • Marketing
  • Sports

Statistics

  • The sanguine personality type makes up about one-third of the general population.
  • There are slightly more males with a sanguine temperament than there are females (34% of males, 32% of females).
  • Many of the world’s most talented artists, entertainers and athletes have been a sanguine type.

Phlegmatic

The 4 Temperaments Phlegmatic

Type: Introvert

The phlegmatic definition is of an introspective, intuitive and highly idealistic person, who is quiet and relaxed, and may often seem lazy. Traditionally seen as a feminine personality type (though we know better now!), phlegmatic people are easy-going and cool, sympathetic, kind and tolerant. Despite good qualities such as patience and adaptability, they can have a tendency to worry and find it hard to make decisions. Phlegmatic temperaments despise conflict. They will do everything they can to make sure their loved ones get along with each other and are happy.

Known as “the watcher,” the phlegmatic temperament type is empathetic, generous and original. They are of the temperament types that accept people for who they are, love showing affection and often prefer stability to uncertainty. Because of their indecisiveness and hesitancy, they can have a compromising nature. Something they might struggle frequently with is a constant worry about everything. Peaceful and shy, they are caring individuals who are not only sensitive to the feelings of others but also very adept at identifying them. This is why they make interpersonal harmony one of their top priorities, and aim for good relationships between friends and family. They are idealistic and driven by values they deeply believe in and defend. Phlegmatic people desire to understand themselves and to be understood for who they really are.

As gifted teachers and mentors, people with the phlegmatic personality are interested in helping others grow and reach their potential. In their relationships, they require authenticity, depth and meaning. They value harmony and enjoy pleasing others. Phlegmatic people wither in critical and competitive environments. They dislike conflict and conformity.

The phlegmatic temperament can easily be summed up as a neutral temperament.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Even though the phlegmatic temperament type carries one of the more neutral and harmonious types of demeanor, that is not to say that they don’t have their weaknesses as well. Let’s see what they are:

Strengths:

  1. Considerate and charitable
  2. Trusting and sympathetic
  3. Curious and observant
  4. Consistent and rational
  5. Warm, calm and welcoming

Weaknesses:

  1. Can be selfish and self-rigorous
  2. Can judge others easily
  3. Are resistant to change
  4. Prefer to stay uninvolved
  5. Can be passive-aggressive

Career paths

The phlegmatic personality profile is very much into working in charity and helping people out. As such, these people should feel in safe waters if they pursue a career in:

  • Education
  • Child development
  • Social work
  • Nursing
  • Counseling/psychology

Statistics

  • The phlegmatic personality type makes up only about 14% of the general population.
  • Females with phlegmatic temperament outnumber male counterparts nearly two to one, with males making up only about 5% of all people.
  • Many great idealist thinkers and leaders in the world have been a phlegmatic type.

Temperaments compatibility

People are rarely 100% compatible with each other, and sometimes disagreements are inevitable and even healthy. Despite our differences, it’s important to learn how to coexist. At PMax we believe in harmonious coexistence, but also know that it can be harder for some matches than others. Let’s see how the 4 temperaments personalities interact and sit with one another.

Phlegmatic and Melancholic compatibility

This match shows how the introverted humors can sit well together. They don’t mind sharing silence and enjoy learning from one another. The phlegmatic person can be a good influence, helping the melancholic type to keep his negativity and depression at bay. In return, a melancholic person can push the phlegmatic type to be more active and get out of his shell more. Both types are organized and caring by nature.

Melancholic and Melancholic compatibility

Like two peas in a pod, these two just understand one another. Given the melancholic temperament assessment, it is easy for these two to relate and soothe one another, as they know where all these emotions are coming from. This often is a harmonious union which rarely experiences conflict. They are never impulsive, learn from past mistakes and are the least likely match to divorce.

Sanguine and Melancholic compatibility

While one of the meanings of temperaments can be to seek harmonious existence between one another, this is a particularly challenging match. As these two are polar opposites, a melancholic person can bring a sanguine person down with their depression and vice versa — sanguine types can be too much for melancholy types. However, with a lot of love and patience, they can bring out the best in each other and help strengthen their weaknesses.

Sanguine and Sanguine compatibility

These matches are personality and temperament examples of how two pluses go very well together. The ultimate fun match, these people are likely to go on tireless adventures together and always be on the lookout for exploration and conquering new peaks. Given the sanguine temperament tendency to indulge in unsafe and destructive behavior (such as substance abuse), this combination might be explosive, if not approached with caution.

Choleric and Melancholic compatibility

A match that is definitely not made in heaven. The melancholic type is always going to be a secondary temperament to the dominant choleric type and this can further fuel its natural depressive state. The melancholy temperaments enjoy human company, while the choleric temperaments stay away from it. All matches need to compromise and find the middle ground, so that both sides are happy. However, for these two this might prove extremely difficult and should be viewed with caution.

Sanguine and Phlegmatic compatibility

This match works surprisingly well, despite their different natures. The unpredictability of the sanguine temperament meets the patience of the phlegmatic temperament, which challenges each side and helps it grow. Emotionally open, phlegmatic types interest sanguine types, which are often secretive and mysterious. If they decide to, these two can conquer the world together.

Choleric and Choleric compatibility

Interestingly enough, choleric men and women are not that drawn to each other. However, if they wait a bit and get closer, they can discover something truly staggering. By definition, choleric types hold the “toughest nut to crack” 4 temperaments description. Finding someone who shares their focus and competence can be rejuvenating, as choleric people generally tend to be mistrustful of others.

Sanguine and Choleric compatibility

Both intellectuals, there is never a dull moment between these two. Even if they aren’t attracted to each other that often, if they can make it work, this match can be something to behold. Both sides are very independent, self-sufficient and aren’t the type to become codependent on each other. Highly active, they always have something on their hands and are eager to share their newest endeavor with their partner.

Phlegmatic and Choleric compatibility

A good example of how opposites attract and you don’t need to be the same in order to be happy. The choleric type tends to be a predominant temperament in relationships, but will be soothed under the warm loving phlegmatic nature. Something that can cause a problem is the choleric person’s love for self-control, which doesn’t sit well with the constantly worried and often dramatic phlegmatic temperament. If they are able to overcome that though, it should be smooth sailing.

Phlegmatic and Phlegmatic compatibility

This is a display of how putting the same 4 temperaments humours together isn’t always a recipe for success. These two can easily suffocate each other, not allowing for enough space. Indecisiveness is another potential issue, as this is one of the key traits of this shared temperament and can lead to a lot of hesitation, where neither partner can step up. The unwillingness for confrontation can further lead to some passive-aggression.

In conclusion

It’s easy to find out what your own temperament type by taking a temperament test online. Bear in mind that you are likely to be a mix of all the types to some extent and if one is prevailing over the others that is not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it gives you a clearer overview of your inner world, of your strengths and weaknesses, and of things you might want to pay more attention to.

Here’s one example of a temperament result, showing how this individual’s personality is a combination of all 4 temperament humours:

 

The 4 Temperaments Combination

While the different temperaments as described by the Roman doctor Galen are not an exact science and are largely disregarded by modern psychology, there is no doubt that they have offered a concrete foundation on which it can stand upon.

Let us know below what is your type and whether or not you find the listed characteristics apply to you.

FAQ

What are the 4 types of personality?

The four types are sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.

What are the four personality traits?

Sanguine types are fun-loving and positive entertainers, who enjoy life to the fullest, with a constant smile plastered on their face.

Choleric types are workaholics with a short fuse, who abide by discipline, cold facts and dedication.

Melancholic types are thoughtful, mystical, and wise people, who are good team members. Each word they speak carries a certain weight.

Phlegmatic types are the ultimate realists, who can keep their cool demeanor if everything is falling apart around them.

Which is the best temperament?

There isn’t such a thing as the best temperament. What is important is to be aware of one’s personality traits in order to be able to master them. In fact, most of us have all the temperaments within ourselves, some more clearly expressed than others. Each temperament has it’s strong and weak points — choleric people are very punctual but short-tempered, sanguine people are fun and easy-going, but irresponsible, melancholic people are wise and have depth, but can overthink, and phlegmatic people are idealistic and intuitive, but often passive.

Who discovered the four temperaments?

The idea was first coined by the greek physician Hippocrates, who ties the temperaments with the ancient humoral theory, which states that people’s temperaments are closely related to the four body fluids. Around 500 years later, Galen, a doctor from the Roman empire, developed a typology based on Hippocrates and interlinked the temperaments closer to psychology. He also gave them the names that we still use today.

What is the most common temperament?

Judging by percentage of the general population, the sanguine and melancholy types are the clear winners, taking up almost 70% of the population. The rarest gender-temperament combination is the female choleric, as they are only 3% but despite that they seem to be strangely popular in their social circles. Remember that the 4 temperaments exist in all of us in different proportions, so regarding some of them as the most common is a misconception.