The 4 types of temperament (and their characteristics)

The human mind remains, despite all the incredible advances that are taking place in the knowledge of the nature of the brain, one of the great unknown to Psychology and science in general. And, within this scope of study, one of the biggest enigmas is the origin of personality.

The human personality and the behaviors that derive from it are very complex concepts where very different factors come into play. Understanding the why of our character and studying how to classify it has been, is and will be one of the greatest ambitions in the study of the mind.

And, in this context, one of the concepts that most defines our personality is temperament, that is, the natural way we have to interact with our environment. And it was Hippocrates himself, a Greek physician, who, between the fifth and fourth centuries BC, described the different types of "humors" that, later, would make up the main temperaments of the human being.

Nowadays we continue this same legacy of Hippocrates to establish the four main temperaments: sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic and melancholic. And in today's article, in addition to understanding the origin of Hippocrates' theory, we will analyze the particularities of each of these temperaments that, despite having an ancient origin, are still used by modern Psychology.

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    The theory of the four humors of Hippocrates

    Hippocrates of Cos (460 BC - 370 BC) was an Ancient Greek physician considered, by many, as the father of Medicine, being one of the most prominent figures in the history of this science. He revolutionized Medicine by establishing it as a discipline of its own, separate from other fields with which it had been associated, such as philosophy.

    And, in addition, he was one of the first historical figures to develop what would later make up the theory of the four temperaments. Hippocrates, in the context of a community where it was believed that everything that existed in the world and in nature arose from the combination of a few elements (earth, water, fire and air), transferred this same concept to the human being.

    Hippocrates, then, developed a theory in which he described the nature of the human being as the combination of four basic substances that he baptized as humors, fluids that, in healthy people, were in similar proportions and whose imbalance caused the appearance of diseases.

    These four humors, the concept from which it comes, as you may have deduced, both the "humor" and the temperament of a person, were, according to Hippocrates and the Hippocratic school, the following:

    • Blood: The element of air applied to the human being.
    • Phlegm: The element of water applied to human beings.
    • Black bile: The element of the earth applied to the human being.
    • Yellow bile: The element of fire applied to human beings.

    But what does this have to do with temperaments? In itself, nothing. Hippocrates, as we have mentioned, was a physician, and he described these four humors to explain the origin of diseases. It was Galen of Pergamum (129 - 200), Greek physician and philosopher, who, hundreds of years later, rescued these concepts from Hippocrates and transferred them to the human mind to explain, now, the temperaments that may exist.

    How are temperaments classified?

    The theory of the 4 temperaments arises from the studies of Hippocrates, Galen of Pergamum and the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849 - 1936), so that, despite the fact that an attempt has been made to link its nature with neurological processes, it is an old classification that arises from more than one idea of ​​the expression of the soul based on how the different humors (substances basic principles of Hippocrates) within the body than of psychological studies as such.

    Even so, it is tremendously interesting to discover them and this classification into four basic temperaments, despite its clearly philosophical bases, is very useful for people who want to find meaning in their temperamental expressions. Without further ado, let's see them.

    1. Blood temperament

    The sanguine temperament is that of the cheerful people, who always seek the company of others and who show an optimistic attitude towards life. Iván Pávlov explained that it is the temperament that arises from a fast, balanced and highly sensitive nervous system, with flexibility to changes in the environment and with a low level of concentration.

    By sanguine temperament we understand the character of warm, lively people who want to enjoy life as long as external conditions allow it. They are also outgoing people with good communication skills and an easy way to spread their optimistic spirit to others.

    They tend to think before speaking, are intuitive, very active, focus their decision-making on feelings rather than reflections, and are receptive. Even so, they change their minds easily and, being guided more by immediate pleasure, often leave things unfinished. According to the theory of Hippocrates, his associated humor is obviously blood and therefore the air.

    2. Phlegmatic temperament

    The phlegmatic temperament is that of the serene, calm, rational and persevering people who show a somewhat shy character, avoiding being the center of attention or holding the role of leader. Iván Pavlov explained that it is the temperament that arises from a slow, balanced and low sensitivity nervous system, with little flexibility to changes in the environment and a high level of concentration.

    By phlegmatic temperament we understand the character of calm, calm people, who almost never get angry serious, impassive, very healthy, analytical and calculating, very emotionally balanced, who make decisions calmly, who do not leave things unfinished and with a certain tendency to be cold.

    They tend to prefer to live a happy and pleasant existence but without too many changes, so they are quite conformist. They value accuracy in both thinking and doing things and have a hard time showing their emotions to others. According to the theory of Hippocrates, its associated humor is obviously phlegm and, therefore, the water.

    3. Melancholic temperament

    The melancholic temperament is that of the sensitive, creative, introverted, self-sacrificing and loyal people, with a character that leads them to devote a lot to their activities and goals but to be very susceptible and inflexible. Iván Pávlov explained that it is the temperament that arises from a weak but highly sensitive nervous system, with low flexibility and a high level of concentration.

    By melancholic temperament, considered the most complex of all on a psychological level, we understand the character of people who are emotionally very sensitive (with a greater tendency to be sad), with a lot of sensitivity to art, who get irritated if they are interrupted when they are concentrated, introverted, easily angry, creative, self-sacrificing (altruistic), loyal and prone to very abrupt emotional changes.

    They are perfectionist people who rarely go out to meet people, although they do let people get close to them. It is difficult to convince them to start projects since they are very analytical, but once you start it, due to its nature, it will finish. As we have said, he becomes a lot in all his projects and always strives to achieve his goals. According to the theory of Hippocrates, his associated humor is black bile and therefore the land.

    4. Choleric temperament

    The choleric temperament is that of the energetic, proactive and independent people, with a character that leads them to be very entrepreneurial and to defend their positions and opinions with conviction. Ivan Pavlov explained that it is the temperament that arises from a fast but unbalanced nervous system, with flexibility to change and a high level of concentration.

    They are practical people in their decisions, very independent and, therefore, self-sufficient. They are also outgoing (although not as much as those of sanguine temperament), ambitious and with very clear goals. The choleric temperament consists of a warm, proactive, willful character, which constantly generates ideas, goals and plans, dominant (they can become manipulative) and, under certain circumstances, very intolerant of others, despite being flexible to changes that happen in life.

    They are people who, above all, trust their own criteria and do not flee from disputes or confrontations. And, of course, they are not afraid to play the role of leader. What's more, it's how they feel better. The problem is that, badly managed, this temperament can be very destructive. According to the theory of Hippocrates, its associated humor is yellow bile and therefore fire.

    The fifth temperament? And the temperamental combinations?

    We could not close this article without two final points. In the first place, that many researchers of this theory describe a fifth temperament that, despite not being linked to a Hippocratic humor, would be the character that we develop as we grow and that we develop in our social context, based on sharing attributes with others and having an affinity for certain abilities. The so-called naturalistic temperament.

    And secondly and lastly, that, despite the fact that these four (or five) temperaments have marked behavioral differences between them, it is evident that people are not closed drawers. Our temperament is unique and we can have traits of several and even all of them. The theory of temperaments serves to divide, but, in the end, each person is unique and, therefore, each temperament is also unique.

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