What is temperament?

Do you react quickly and intensely, or are you perpetually chill?

Maybe you make decisions easily without much thought, while your best friend spends hours mulling over the right choice?

Differences in sociability, impulsivity, persistence, emotionality, and mood are all aspects of our inborn temperament. Temperament is that aspect of our personality that we are born with —the way we are "hard-wired" so to speak. It is our "default" setting, our predisposition to react in certain ways.

Nature or nurture?

Both environment and biology affect our total personality. Culture, family of origin, education, birth order—all of these factors contribute to our personality, but temperament is that part of the personality that we are born with. The temperament is an inborn tendency that underlies many of our reactions to life's experiences.

Why 4?

The four temperaments were originally proposed by Hippocrates (the "father of medical science") in 350 BC to explain differences in personalities based on the predominant bodily fluid: choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic. Although it was a primitive classification, the terms are still widely used today, and they are a practical (and fun) tool for identifying different personalities. The choleric tends to react quickly and intensely, and to take action immediately and decisively. The sanguine is the classic "people person," known for their warmth, enthusiasm, and cheerful optimism. The melancholic is deeply thoughtful, slow to respond, pessimistic, sensitive, and idealistic. The phlegmatic is usually a "peace-maker"—easy-going, calm, cooperative, and reserved.

Is this just pseudo-science?

Believe it or not, contemporary neuroscientists and psychologists do study temperament (though not using the ancient Greek  typology). It is generally acknowledged that one's personality is impacted by both environmental and biological factors—with temperament being one factor. Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan, once a staunch behaviorist, became a believer as he tracked temperamental characteristics over time in a longitudinal study. It was "Baby 19", whose anxious behavior as an infant remained unchanged even until her adolescent years. She sparked Dr. Kagan's "aha moment," showing that babies can differ according to their inborn temperament. Temperament is considered to be the "building blocks" of one's personality. 

Why should I know my temperament?

Understanding temperament can be enormously helpful in daily life--on the job, at home, and in our relationships. Knowing your temperament gives you an immediate insight into your natural strengths and weaknesses, your hot buttons, and your emotional tendencies. This knowledge will help you plan ahead and avoid emotionally debilitating situations, work-related missteps, relationship bungles, and even poor job choices.

If you are a melancholic and tend to get overwhelmed by too many social activities, you will learn not to over-schedule yourself. If you know that you are sanguine, and tend to jump into projects impulsively, you might be more cautious when your boss asks you to take on yet another project. Or, if you are a choleric, you might need to know when to dial it down a notch. If you discover you are phlegmatic, you might need to try speaking up for yourself even when you'd rather not make waves. These are temperamental characteristics that, once you are aware of them, you can learn to mitigate or even overcome. Understanding your temperament is like taking a personal inventory of your natural strengths and weaknesses, so that you can capitalize on your natural strengths and improve your areas of weakness. Psychological studies have shown that people are happier the more they use their natural strengths.

Will understanding temperament help my relationships?

In a relationship, temperament differences become even more pronounced, and understanding your partner or spouse's temperament will help diffuse many arguments and give insight into how the other "ticks."

We tend to think that what makes me happy, makes you happy. This is often wrong. Knowing your temperament will help you identify what makes your partner really feel loved, what pushes his or her hot buttons, how they tend to communicate, and more. Understanding temperament will foster mutual appreciation for each other's gifts.

Often, people of opposite temperaments are attracted to one another. The calm and easy-going phlegmatic may be very attracted to a take-charge choleric. A sensitive, introverted melancholic may be attracted to the enthusiastic, outgoing sanguine. Though opposite temperaments do attract, arguments can erupt when the sanguine is late to every meeting, the melancholic grumbles pessimistically, the choleric constantly argues, and the phlegmatic seems to lack ambition. Read about your temperament and your loved ones, and unlock their personality!