Personality Types

Can you put your personality type in a box? Personalities are unique. Yours is. So is mine. Still, categorizing personality types is useful for understanding yourself and others. Just don’t let it limit you. Let’s look at different personality types.

 In ancient Greece and Rome, four personality types were recognized: Melancholic, Choleric, Sanguine and Phlegmatic. Melancholics tend towards black moods and deep reflection; cholerics are goal-orientated and analytic; sanguine people are sociable and impulsive; and phlegmatics are unassuming and intuitive.

 Was this Hippocrates’ idea? He thought body fluids, “humours,” give rise to your state of mind. If you are in “good humour,” you are in a good state of mind. Melancholics, as the word indicates, are influenced by black bile from the gall bladder. Choleric ambition is influenced by yellow bile. Sanguine energy is influenced by blood, and Phlegmatic flow by watery phlegm. Why don’t other body fluids don’t get a fair go? (Imagine having a personality influenced by urine.)

 Last century, studying the personality became more scientific. Psychiatrist Carl Jung saw that people were broadly inclined to be either more Thinking or Feeling, more Extraverted or Introverted, and more Sensing (seeing is believing) or Intuitive (I have a hunch; I just know) in gathering information. People are also inclined to be more structured, Judging, or flexible, Perceiving. 

 Enter the Myer-Briggs Personality Type Inventory, used extensively today in business and teamwork settings. It categorizes people into 16 types based on being

          Introvert or Extravert           (I or E)

            Sensing or Intuitive              (S or N)

            Thinking or Feeling              (T or F), and

            Judging or Perceiving         (J or P).

You could be ENTJ (extravert, intuitive, thinking and judging type), ISFP (introvert, sensing, feeling and perceiving type), ESFP, ISTJ or others. There’s a lot of literature on each of the 16 types.

The Five Factor Model was developed through analysing words used to describe personality characteristics. Someone described as dependable, reliable, trustworthy or loyal would, in the Five Factor Model, score high in Conscientiousness. People who go with the flow, people-please, or are flexible and easily led would score highly in Agreeableness. The science of language analysis gives it credence.

 The five factors go by the acronym OCEAN:

OPENNESS (willingness to try new things)

CONSCIENTIOUSNESS (self-discipline)

EXTRAVERTION (liking external world stimuli)

AGREEABLENESS (valuing getting on with others)

NEUROTICISM (tending to express negative emotions)

People can score high or low or anywhere in between in each. There’s extensive literature available on what these five factors mean for your life.

Then there’s the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI). It looks at seven “dimension of personality:” four temperaments and three character traits. Temperament is the inherited part of personality, and character reflects our learnt and chosen values and believes.

 The four temperaments are

 Harm Avoidance,

Novelty Seeking,

Reward Dependence, and


The three character traits are


Cooperativeness, and


Harm Avoidance is a pattern of worry, fear, being shy, passive and pessimistic. Being low in harm avoidance means being courageous, carefree, outgoing and optimistic. It’s linked to the brain chemical serotonin.[i]  

 Novelty Seeking is being impulsive, curious, easily bored and perhaps disorderly. Being low in novelty seeking means being stoic, frugal, and orderly. It’s linked to the brain chemical noradrenaline.

 Reward Dependence is seeking others’ approval and being sentimental, sensitive and sociable. Being low in reward dependence means being practical, tough, and insensitive. It’s linked to dopamine.

 Persistence is being industrious, determined, hard-working and even over-achieving and perfectionistic. Being low in persistence is, well, the opposite.

 Maybe Hippocrates was onto something, because the four temperaments of the TCI, to my way of thinking, correspond quite nicely to Hippocrates’ “four humours:”

           Melancholic               =          Harm Avoidance

            Choleric                                 Novelty Seeking

            Sanguine                               Reward Dependent

            Phlegmatic                            Persistent.

Let’s consider the three character traits. You can still work on these to help your personality work for you not against you.

Self-Directedness is taking responsibility and setting your own goals.

Cooperativeness means using compassion, empathy, helpfulness and tolerance to integrate into a group.

 Self-Transcendence is being humble, generous yet fulfilled, accepting, and even wise.

 Research shows that the TCI correlate well to the Five Factor Model.[i]

 Like your body, your personality is unique. An accurate personality system would need to include about 8 billion or more variations. Still, personality types are useful; to know, ponder, contemplate.

 Personally, I tend to be suspicious of placing anybody in a small box. We ENFJ Reward-Dependant Sanguines scoring low in agreeableness don’t like to be pigeon-holed you know.

 We are all individuals (even if I’m not).

 For more on personality types, check out our podcast on this topic:



[i] Cloninger, C. Robert. "A unified biosocial theory of personality and its role in the development of anxiety states." Psychiatric developments 3.2 (1986): 167-226.

i] De Fruyt, Filip, Lieve Van De Wiele, and Cornelis Van Heeringen. "Cloninger's psychobiological model of temperament and character and the five-factor model of personality." Personality and individual differences 29.3 (2000): 441-452.

Christian HeimComment