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Personality Types

1: The Four Temperaments

Through most of human history, it has been assumed (correctly, I sincerely believe) that people come in four basic personality types, or "temperaments". This was noted by the great Greek physician Hippocrates as long ago as 400BC (2400 years ago!). Hippocrates named the four temperaments "Melancholic, "Sanguine", "Choleric", and "Phlegmatic" (after various human body fluids which he believed influenced personality). Today we call these four temperaments "Guardian", "Artisan", "Idealist", and "Rationalist".

While Hippocrates' body-fluids theory turned out to be a dead end, his observations about human temperament were very accurate indeed. You can see this all around you, in everyone you meet. Some people are fact-oriented (they're "Guardians"). Some people are action-oriented (they're "Artisans"). Some people are ideals-oriented (they're "Idealists"). Some people are theory-oriented (they're "Rationalists"). True, there are some people, especially older people, whose personalities tend to bridge the gap between two or more temperaments; but the vast majority of people do tend to have one particular temperament.

Over the years, several different naming schemes have been proposed for the four temperaments. At least four such schemes are in common use today.

In 1958, psychologist Isabel Myers and her mother Katheryn Briggs wrote a landmark paper titled "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator" (MBTI for short). In this paper, they gave the four temperaments the names SJ, SP, NF, and NT. (There is much more on Myers and Briggs later in this essay.)

Then a few years later, David Keirsey published his best-selling book "Please Understand Me", in which he gave the four temperaments yet another set of names, by attaching a patron Greek God to each temperament: Epimethean, Dionysian, Apollonian, Promethean.

Personally, I prefer the names "Guardian", "Artisan", "Idealist", and "Rationalist" for the four temperaments, because they are clearly descriptive. But the other three name schemes are also in common use. To sum up, and avoid confusion, the following table shows the various systems for naming the four temperaments:

The Four Temperaments
Descriptive Hippocrates Keirsey MBTI
Guardian Melancholic Epimethean SJ
Artisan Sanguine Dionysian SP
Idealist Choleric Apollonian NF
Rationalist Phlegmatic Promethean NT

2: Carl Jung

In 1921, Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung published his book Psychological Types. In this book, Jung proposed, based on the evidence of his years of working closely with hundreds of psychiatric patients, that people come in eight different psychological "flavors", depending on which of four mental "functions" they preferred using the most, and on whether they were "introverted" (preferring the inner, subjective world of thoughts, ideas, and emotions) or "extraverted" (preferring the outer, objective world of things, people, and actions).

Jung's four functions include two "perceptive" functions and two "judgmental" functions.

The perceptive functions are ways of perceiving, or taking in information. The two ways people do this are called "sensing" and "intuition". Sensing means using data (either real-time or remembered) from our five senses as our main source of information. Intuition means paying more attention to our inner voice and its ability to recognize patterns, than to our sensory impressions.

The judgmental functions are ways of judging, or making decisions based on the data we take into our conscious minds from our perceptive functions. Jung called our two ways of judging "thinking" and "feeling". By thinking, Jung meant making decisions based on deductive logic. By feeling, he meant making decisions based on emotions.

Of course, it is also common to make decisions based on things other than thinking or feeling. We may eat ice cream because it tastes good (a "sensing" decision), or we may add a second wing to a house we're designing because it completes the pattern (an "intuitive" decision). Jung called these non-judgmental decision-making techniques "irrational". (By "irrational", Jung meant only perceptive as opposed to judgmental; the word should not be construed as meaning "illogical" or "inferior".)

Jung proposed that people chose one of these four functions as their "primary" function, and used that function either introvertedly or extravertedly. Hence in Jung's system there are eight basic personality types:

  1. Introverted Thinker
  2. Introverted Feeler
  3. Introverted Sensor
  4. Introverted Intuitor
  5. Extraverted Thinker
  6. Extraverted Feeler
  7. Extraverted Sensor
  8. Extraverted Intuitor

You may ask, then, which of these eight types correspond to which of Hippocrates' four "temperaments"? Well, a little bit of thought and observation will show you that the Sensing types correspond to the Guardians and Artisans, and the Intuiting types correspond to the Idealists and Rationalists. But beyond that, the correspondence is murky. It was another forty-seven years before Myers and Briggs finally made the connection clear.

3: Behaviorism

Throughout most of the twentieth century, the science of human personality types fell into disrepute as other psychological ideas took its place. Most importantly, Behaviorism became popular. Pavlov and Skinner presented their theories that peoples behavior was all purely dependent on their individual life experience, and that the proper role and function of psychology was to induce people to adhere to "proper", "normal" behavior patterns by conditioning them with rewards and punishments.

Even today, after many studies have shown that behaviorism is a concept that simply does not work, modern introductory college psychology textbooks steadfastly continue to teach Pavlov's and Skinner's obsolete ideas to young students, while ignoring much more useful branches of psychology, such as personality typology.

I certainly hope that in the twenty-first century the psychology industry will advance to the point where personality-type models (and especially MBTI) are taught in high-school and college psychology courses as being the valid and useful things which they are.

4: Myers and Briggs

In 1958, Isabel Myers and her mother Katheryn Briggs wrote a paper titled Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI for short), in which they proposed that there are actually sixteen different human personality types.

Ms. Myers had been reading various obscure psychology textbooks when she stumbled across Psychological Types. Being intelligent and perceptive, she immediately realized that here was a masterpiece of psychological thought, written by one of the greatest geniuses in human history. She read the book cover to cover, and thought long about how to expand Jung's ideas into a complete model of human personality.

Ms. Myers came to realize three things:

  1. That everyone chooses not only a first-choice or "Primary" function, but also a second-choice or "auxiliary" function.
  2. That if the primary function is judgmental, then the auxiliary function will be perceptive, and vice versa.
  3. That if the primary function is introverted, then the auxiliary function will be extraverted, and vice versa.

In this system, then, a person has 2 choices for orientation, introvert (I) or extravert (E); two choices for method of information intake, sensing (S) or intuition (N); two choices for method of judgment, thinking (T) or feeling (F); and two choices as to which function is used in the outer world, judgment (J) or perception (P). Hence there are 2x2x2x2=16 different MBTI personality types, as shown in this chart:


Tests were created to help determine which of the sixteen types the test taker was, and after a time, when many people had taken these MBTI tests, personality "profiles" (correspondences between MBTI type and the personalities of individual people) emerged. When one examines these profiles and compares them with the "temperaments" of Hippocrates, a clear correspondence emerges:

When I was first introduced to MBTI a few months ago, I found it to be the most true and useful psychological theory I had ever heard of. It was like a breath of fresh air after reading the antiquated (and often obsolete or just plain false) concepts that are in most psychology books. This one theory explains most of the things that have happened in my life, and also explains behavior patterns in my friends and acquaintances which, until MBTI, I found totally inexplicable. It turns out that usually people's seemingly-inexplicable behavior is really just them being their own inborn personality type.

A few years after Myers and Briggs published MBTI, David Keirsey wrote his excellent book Please Understand Me. (The second edition, Please Understand Me II, is now available at bookstores and libraries everywhere.) To quote from page one of that book:

If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong.

Or if I believe other than you, at least pause before you correct my view.

Or if my emotion is less than yours, or more, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly.

Or yet if I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design for action, let me be.

I do not, for the moment at least, ask you to understand me. That will come only when you are willing to give up changing me into a copy of you.

I may be your spouse, your parent, your offspring, your friend, or your colleague. If you will allow me any of my own wants, or emotions, or beliefs, or actions, then you open yourself, so that some day these ways of mine might not seem so wrong, and might finally appear to you as right -- for me. To put up with me is the first step to understanding me. Not that you embrace my ways as right for you, but that you are no longer irritated or disappointed with me for my seeming waywardness. And in understanding me you might come to prize my differences from you, and, far from seeking to change me, preserve and even nurture those differences.

This does an excellent job of summing up why personality typology, and MBTI in particular, is so important to me. I believe that MBTI is the best and most useful tool in psychology today. It encourages people to see each other's differences and respect them and cherish them. It points out the foolishness of trying to force someone else to become a copy of one's self. It explains many of the tensions and disagreements in this world, and gives useful tools for building teams instead of making enemies. It brings people together in a way that no other psychological theory has ever done. This is the legacy of MBTI.

5: Other Personality Type Theories

Several other personality typing systems have cropped up over the years. I don't know anything about most of them. One that I do have some experience with is the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is a very different system from MBTI. Instead of measuring function preferences, Enneagram measures motivations, coping strategies, and defense mechanisms. There are nine basic types, but many people have a second or "wing" type in addition to their main type. I'm a 5w4, which is a 5 (Thinker) with a 4 (Tragic-Romantic) wing. For more information on Enneagram, search your local library or a web search engine.

6: For Further Reading

This brief essay can only scratch the surface of personality typology, of course. But I hope I have whetted your appetite for information! I strongly suggest the following books and web sites for further reading:


 Web Sites:

Written Sunday April 2, 2000 by Robbie Hatley.

Last edited Sunday April 22, 2007.

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