This post contains brief exercises to
enable you to make a start in exploring how the Temperament patterns relate to
you. I therefore suggest you should have at least 15 minutes of spare time
before working through it.
Temperament theory is concerned with identifying patterns in human behaviour. In a certain sense, it is a scientific language game concerned with defining words that relate to psychological observations. It is a largely subjective endeavour, but then, so is most science. The capacity to engage in discussions on topics about which we previously had no descriptive words is the most valuable aspect of Temperament theory, and I heartily encourage everyone to learn the basic terms. It will not take long, and it will empower you to consider your behaviour and the actions of others from a completely different perspective.
This post is concerned with providing a
basic introduction to Temperament theory, building up to an introduction to the
four Temperament patterns themselves. We will follow its development from Jung,
through Isabel Myers (of Myers-Briggs fame), to David Keirsey and finally to Linda
Berens. As we go, we will begin to learn the language behind the theory.
We will do this by identifying the three axes of distinction (that’s the plural of ‘axis’, by the way, not the name of a trio of mystical relics) that are currently used to underlie Temperament theory.
First Axis: Abstract versus Concrete
Jung’s work from the early decades of the twentieth century is not popular in modern science for reasons beyond the scope of this post. However, essential to his work was a rejection of Freud’s approach of identifying a single factor behind all behaviour. Many of Freud’s opponents disagreed with Freud’s focus on lust as the single drive, but they still advanced very narrow, reductionist theories based on identifying single motivating factors alone. Jung took a different approach. He suggested that people were different from each other, and attempted to identify factors that constituted meaningful distinctions.
Jung’s distinctions were threefold: Introversion
versus Extroversion, Thinking versus Feeling and Sensing versus Intuitive. It
is this last distinction which constitutes the first axis of modern Temperament
theory. I freely admit that Jung’s theories were incomplete and flawed – but it
is ever thus in any nascent field, and this is no more a reason to dismiss
Jung’s work than it is to avoid studying (say) Darwin’s or Newton’s theories.
Rather than considering exactly what Jung meant by ‘Sensing’ and ‘Intuitive’ (which are terms familiar to anyone who has examined Myers-Briggs typology) we shall simply consider the particular aspect of these terms used in Temperament theory – namely the axis of distinction in language use: Abstract versus Concrete. (For reference, ‘Sensing’ correlates with ‘Concrete’ and ‘Intuitive’ correlates with ‘Abstract’).
In his Abstract and Concrete Behaviour, Goldstein had some people talking more abstractly than concretely and others talking more concretely than abstractly. Similarly, in his Essay on Man Cassirer has some talking more analogically than indicatively, others talking more indicatively than analogically. In other words, some people are prone to send symbol messages, others send signal messages – signals pointing to something present to the eye, symbols bring to mind something absent from view.
Berens wrote on Abstract language use:
If you are more abstract by nature, you will usually think and talk about concepts and patterns, referencing sensory details as needed. Implication, hypotheses, or symbolic meanings might occupy most of your free “thought time”.
And on Concrete language use:
If you are more concrete by nature, you will more often think and talk about tangible realities backed up by sensory observation. Your free “thought time” is likely filled with reviewing events, facts, images, memories, and how things look, feel, taste and sound.
Consider which of these descriptions fits you best. You might express both – this is perfectly normal – but try to distinguish for yourself which description is your best fit.
Read the descriptions again and take a
moment to consider before continuing. Write down your preference between Abstract and Concrete as we will use it later.
Second Axis: Affiliative versus Pragmatic (Actions)
Following from Jung’s work, Katherine
Briggs developed Jung’s work, along with her daughter Isabel Myers. In the 1940’s,
Myers had taken over her mother’s work and this lead to the development of the
instrument known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (copyright disclaimer
below). This resulted in an inventory of sixteen different personality
David Keirsey, working between the 1950s and 1970s, identified common patterns between clusters of the types produced by the MBTI. (His first book on this subject was written with Marilyn Bates; I’m afraid I am uncertain as to her contribution to this work). Although these four clusters form the basis of modern Temperament theory, their definition is independent of the MBTI itself. However, anyone familiar with Myers-Briggs terminology can adapt this understanding to Temperament theory with comparative ease (see below).
Keirsey defined the four Temperaments in
terms of two axes – the Abstract versus Concrete distinction we have already
seen, and a second distinction reflecting different approaches to taking
actions or using tools: Affiliative versus Pragmatic. (Keirsey actually
uses the terms Co-operative and Utilitarian, but I have chosen to
prefer the terminology of his student, Linda Beren’s, and I have substituted
[People expressing Affiliative] try to get where they want to go by getting along with others, that is, by being law-abiding and accommodating with those around them, so that they are in full accord with the agreed-upon rules and mores of the social groups they belong to. In contrast, [people expressing Pragmatic] tend to go after what they want in the most effective ways possible, and they choose tools that promise success with minimum cost and effort – whether or not they observe the social rules.
Not, mind you, that the habitually [Affiliative people] don’t care about useful and effective tools. Certainly they do, but they consider the effectiveness of tools as secondary to whether they should be used, or how they will be regarded by others – in other words, whether they are socially acceptable, or morally correct. In the same way, it is not that the habitually [Pragmatic people] refuse to cooperate with their social groups, but they see pleasing others and observing rules as secondary considerations, coming only after they have determined how well their chosen tools will work in accomplishing their ends. It’s a matter of priorities. Most of us learn to get along with others most of the time, and most of us opt for effective action, but our first instinct is to pursue our goals according to our habit of [preferring Affiliative or Pragmatic.]
Berens discusses the matter in terms of roles, rather than tool use, per se. On Affiliative roles she writes:
Affiliative roles require that people act in community, with a sense of what is good for the group. They may be people or task focussed. They may be practical or idealistic. No matter what, there is always some sense of cooperation.
On Pragmatic roles she writes:
Pragmatic roles require that individuals act in accordance with what they see needs to be done to get the desired result. They, too, may be people or task focussed. They, too, may be practical or idealistic. When a decision needs to be made or an action needs to be taken, their first inclination is to act more independently regardless of norms or consensus.
Do you recognise yourself in one of these descriptions more than the other? It’s quite possible to express both, but you should attempt to distinguish for yourself which is your best fit out of Affiliative or Pragmatic.
Read the descriptions again and take a
moment to consider before continuing.
Third Axis: Structure versus Motive (Focus)
Since Temperament theory involves only four
patterns, two axes are sufficient. However, working with only the first two
axes caused Keirsey to erroneously assume that there were two pairs of
Temperament patterns that were diametrically opposed, and that had nothing in
common. Conversely, Berens identified a third axis which related these
previously disparate Temperaments.
The three axes therefore not only separate the four Temperament patterns, but also connect them – each single Temperament has one property in common with each other Temperament pattern. This interrelation does not undermine the orthogonally of the patterns, since each pattern has two distinguishing traits between each other pattern.
The final axis concerns where people focus
their attention. On the one hand, people who focus on Motive are
concerned with why people choose to act, or what they have to gain, while
people who focus on Structure are more interested in rules and
Berens suggests that people whose preferred focus is based upon Structure wish to “have a measure of control over life’s problems and irregularities rather than be at the mercy of random forces.” She suggests that such people “ask or wonder about how things are organized or sequenced” and “notice and refer to methods and requirements or rules.” She suggests such people are “more comfortable when the order of things is clear” and “detect the details of the content of a communication [while potentially] missing the real purpose behind a behaviour.”
Conversely, people whose preferred focus is
tied to Motive are more concerned with “why people do things.” She
suggests such people “ask or wonder what is motivating someone” and “notice and
refer to ‘what’s in it’ for the other person.” She also suggests that such
people are “more comfortable when others’ motives are clear” and “detect the
purpose behind a behaviour and missing pieces of the content of a communication.”
Does one of these descriptions sound more like you than the other?
Read the previous two paragraphs again and take a moment to consider before continuing. Write down your preference between Structure and Motive as we will use it later.
The Four Temperaments
At this point, we are ready to specify how the four Temperaments relate to the three axes of distinction discussed thus far. Detailed descriptions of each Temperament must wait for a future date – I will be writing about each in turn – but a brief description (taken from Berens) is provided here for context.
Remember that we all express all four
Temperaments, but to differing degrees. Therefore, you should not be surprised
if you recognise yourself in more than one Temperament pattern (although it
would be surprising if you found yourself equally represented by all four patterns!)
If you have made a note of your preferences with respect to the three axes, above, you should be able to home in on a ‘best fit’ pattern directly. It is possible that your expression of multiple Temperaments means that your axis patterns do not identify a single pattern – this is what happens to me when I try and use the axes in this manner. At the very least you will be able to eliminate your ‘worst fit’ pattern in this case.
Here’s the key:
- Concrete-Pragmatic-Motive – your best fit pattern is probably Artisan
- Concrete-Affiliative-Structure – your best fit pattern is probably Guardian
- Abstract-Pragmatic-Structure – your best fit pattern is probably Rational
- Abstract-Affiliative-Motive – your best fit pattern is probably Idealist
- Concrete-Pragmatic-Structure – your weakest pattern is probably Idealist
- Concrete-Affiliative-Motive – your weakest pattern is probably Rational
- Abstract-Pragmatic-Motive – your weakest pattern is probably Guardian
- Abstract-Affiliative-Structure – your weakest pattern is probably Artisan
(Basically, if you do not match one of the
‘best fit’ patterns, invert each of the axes values to determine your weakest
Adapting from Myers-Briggs Terms
If you are unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs
terminology, skip this section.
If you have already identified a Myers-Briggs type for yourself, you can use your personality code to suggest a best fit pattern and a secondary pattern or yourself as follows:
- If your code includes SP, your best fit pattern is probably Artisan
- If your code includes SJ, your best fit pattern is probably Guardian
- If your code includes NT, your best fit pattern is probably Rational
- If your code includes NF, your best fit pattern is probably Idealist
Remove the letters for your suggest best
fit pattern (above) and the I or E at the start of your Myers-Briggs code and
you will be left with a single letter. This may indicate a secondary pattern
- If you are left with P, your secondary pattern is probably Artisan
- If you are left with J, your secondary pattern is probably Guardian
- If you are left with T, your secondary pattern is probably Rational
- If you are left with F, your secondary pattern is probably Idealist
Armed with some indication of your
Temperament preferences, we are ready to examine the four Temperaments briefly.
The Artisan Temperament (Concrete-Pragmatic-Motive)
People preferring Artisan…
Want the freedom to choose the next action. Seek to have impact, to get results…. Are absorbed in the action of the moment. Are oriented toward the present. Seek adventure and stimulation. Hunger for spontaneity. Trust impulses, luck, and their ability to solve any problem they run into… Are gifted tacticians, deciding the best move to make in the moment, the expedient action to take.
The Guardian Temperament (Concrete-Affiliative-Structure)
People preferring Guardian…
Want to fit in, to have membership. Hunger for responsibility, accountability, and predictability… Tend to… serve and to do their duty. Establish and maintain institutions and standard operating procedures. Tend to protect and preserve, to stand guard and warn. Look to the past and tradition… Want security and stability. Generally are serious and concerned, fatalistic. Are skilled at ensuring that things, information, and people are in the right place, in the right amounts, in the right quality, at the right time.
The Rational Temperament (Abstract-Pragmatic-Structure)
People preferring Rational…
Want knowledge and to be competent, to achieve. Seek to understand how the world and things in it work. Are theory oriented. See everything as conditional and relative… Trust logic and reason. Want to have a rationale for everything. Are sceptical… Hunger for precision, especially in thought and language. Are skilled in long-range planning, inventing, designing, and defining. Generally are calm. Foster individualism.
The Idealist Temperament (Abstract-Affiliative-Motive)
People preferring Idealist…
Want to be authentic, benevolent and empathic. Search for identity, meaning and significance. Are relationship oriented, particularly valuing meaningful relationships. Are romantic and idealistic, wanting to make the world a better place. Look to the future. Focus on developing potential, fostering and facilitating growth through coaching, teaching, counselling, communicating. Are gifted in the use of metaphors to bridge different perspectives. Are diplomatic.
Temperament theory provides us with a
language for discussing and understanding how and why people behave in certain
ways. By acquiring these terms, you will not only be able to better understand
your own behaviour, but perhaps more importantly understand why other people
behave in ways quite different to you.
This piece is merely an introduction to the subject, attempting to give you a starting point for examining your behaviour in terms of Temperament theory – either by identifying a possible ‘best fit’ pattern, or by identifying a possible ‘worst fit’ pattern.
We will proceed to look at all four Temperament
patterns in turn, to examine how these have been described by Keirsey and
Berens, and to explore the implications of each of these patterns of emotional
response both for individual behaviour, for play and for society in general.
All quotes from Keirsey are taken from Please Understand Me II (Prometheus Nemesis Book Company 1998, ISBN 1-885705-02-6).
All quotes from Berens are taken from Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Temperament
2.0 (Telos Publications 2000, ISBN 0-9664624-4-0).
All references to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test or MBTI should be understood as references to trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust, owned by Consulting Psychologists Press.
In all cases, the use of copyrighted material or trademarked terms in this post does not represent a challenge to the intellectual property rights of the respective owners.