Personality Types

Categorizing personality may be useful for understanding yourself and others. Here we’ll go through an overview of Hippocrates’ humours, the Myers-Briggs, the Five Factor Model and the Temperament and Character Inventory.

Hippocrates, Ancient Greece and Rome recognized four personality types: 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.

The theory was that body fluids, “humours,” led to mind states. “Good humour” = good state of mind. Melancholics (melan = black, cholic = bile) are influenced by black bile from the gall bladder; choleric ambition by yellow bile; sanguine energy by blood; and phlegmatic flow by phlegm. Other body fluids don’t get a look in (imagine being influenced by urine).

Last century, the study of personality became more scientific. Psychiatrist Carl Jung saw that people were inclined to be either Thinking or Feeling, Extraverted or Introverted, and Sensing (seeing is believing) or Intuitive (I have a hunch; I just know). People were also inclined to be Judging (structured) or Perceiving (flexible). His ideas were subsumed into the Myer-Briggs Personality Type Inventory, used 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), ISTJ or others. There’s a lot of literature on these and it has stood the test of time.

The Five Factor Model was developed through analysing words describing personality. Someone described as dependable, reliable, or loyal would, in the Five Factor Model, score highly in Conscientiousness. People who go with the flow, people-please, or are flexible score highly in Agreeableness. The science of language 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 to low in each and there’s extensive literature available on what these five factors mean for you.

The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) looks at seven personality dimensions; four temperaments and three character traits. Temperament is the inherited part of personality, and character is what’s learnt, chosen and believed. Recent studies have linked it in with brain chemcials.

The four temperaments are

Harm Avoidance,

Novelty Seeking,

Reward Dependence, and

Persistence.

The three character traits are

Self-directedness,

Cooperativeness, and Self-transcendence.

Harm Avoidance is having worry, fear, shyness, passivity and pessimism. Being low in harm avoidance means being courageous, carefree, outgoing and optimistic. It’s linked to the brain chemical serotonin.[1]  

Novelty Seeking is being impulsive, curious, easily bored and disorderly. Low in novelty seeking means stoicism, frugality, and orderliness. It’s linked to noradrenaline.

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

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

Maybe Hippocrates was onto something. Looks like these four temperaments correspond quite nicely to his “humours:”

          Melancholic                =       Harm Avoidance

         Choleric                       Novelty Seeking

         Sanguine                    Reward Dependent

         Phlegmatic                           Persistent.

 On to the character traits, things you can still change:


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

Cooperativeness: using compassion, empathy, helpfulness and tolerance to integrate into groups.

Self-Transcendence: having humility, generosity, acceptance, and wisedom.


The TCI and the Five Factor Model correlate well[2] so looks like everyone was onto something.

Like your body, your personality is unique. These classifications are useful to help know yourself, make your personality work for you, and get on with others. Personally, I’m suspicious of boxes. We ENFJ Reward-Dependant Sanguines scoring low in agreeableness don’t like to be pigeon-holed you know.

We are all individuals (but perhaps I’m not).

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

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[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