Temperament Theory Explains "The Why" We Behave The Way We Do


Adapted from Linda V. Berens, Understanding Yourself and Others®: An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments-4.0 (Telos Publications, 2010) *Used with permission.                
Buy from Amazon now


Temperament theory describes four organizing patterns of personality and is based in descriptions of behavior that go back over twenty-five centuries. It tells us the "why" of behavior, our motivators, and sources of deep psychological stress. Knowing our temperament patterns tells us our core needs and values as well as the talents we are more likely to be drawn to develop.

Brief History of the Four Temperaments

The human community can be regarded as a system, holistic in nature, seeking survival. Throughout the ages, observers of human behavior have repeatedly identified four major patterns or configurations of behavior. Such holistic sorting of behavior patterns has been recorded for at least twenty-five centuries.

In 450 b.c., Hippocrates described four such dispositions he called temperaments—a choleric temperament with an ease of emotional arousal and sensitivity; a phlegmatic temperament with cool detachment and impassivity; a melancholic temperament with a very serious, dour, and downcast nature; and a sanguine temperament full of impulsivity, excitability, and quick reactivity. During the Middle Ages, Philippus Paracelsus described four natures whose behaviors were said to be influenced by four kinds of spirits: nymphs, sylphs, gnomes, and salamanders.

Most twentieth-century psychologists abandoned holistic observation of human behavior for a microscopic examination of parts, fragments, traits, and so on. To them, all human beings were basically alike, and individual differences were due to chance or conditioning.

Two German psychologists, Ernst Kretschmer and Eduard Spränger, were among the few to continue to view individuals holistically in terms of patterns. Inspired by their work, a modern psychologist, David Keirsey, noted common themes in the various observations and the consistent tendency of human behavior to sort itself into four similar patterns. Linda Berens continues to expand our understanding of the four temperaments through the unique contributions; including the core needs, values, talents, and behaviors of the four temperament patterns--as illustrated by The Temperament Targets™. These four major patterns are referred to as temperaments. They describe the ways human personality interacts with the environment to satisfy its needs.


The Catalyst™ Temperament
(Diplomatic Skill Set)


The core needs are for the meaning and significance that come from having a sense of purpose and working toward some greater good. They need to have a sense of unique identity. They value unity, self-actualization, and authenticity. People of this temperament prefer cooperative interactions with a focus on ethics and morality. They tend to trust their intuition and impressions first and then seek to find the logic and the data to support them. Given their need for empathic relationships, they learn more easily when they can relate to the instructor and the group.

The Stabilizer™ Temperament
(Logistical Skill Set)


The core needs are for group membership and responsibility. They need to know they are doing the responsible thing. They value stability, security, and a sense of community. They trust hierarchy and authority and may be surprised when others go against these social structures. People of this temperament prefer cooperative actions with a focus on standards and norms. Their orientation is to their past experiences, and they like things sequenced and structured. They tend to look for the practical applications of what they are learning.

The Theorist™ Temperament
(Strategic Skill Set)


The core needs are for mastery of concepts, knowledge, and competence. People of this temperament want to understand the operating principles of the universe and to learn or even develop theories for everything. They value expertise, logical consistency, concepts, and ideas and seek progress. They tend toward pragmatic, utilitarian actions with a technology focus. They trust logic above all else. They tend to be skeptical and highly value precision in language. Their learning style is conceptual, and they want to know the underlying principles that generate the details and facts rather than the details alone.

The Improviser™ Temperament
(Tactical Skill Set)

The core needs are to have the freedom to act without hindrance and to see a marked result from action. People of this temperament highly value aesthetics, whether in nature or art. Their energies are focused on skillful performance, variety, and stimulation. They tend toward pragmatic, utilitarian actions with a focus on technique. They trust their impulses and have a drive to action. They learn best experientially and when they see the relevance of what they are learning to what they are doing. They enjoy hands-on, applied learning with a fast pace and freedom to explore.



  • Abstract versus Concrete language-The way we tend to think about things and the way we use words
  • Affiliative versus Pragmatic roles-The way we prefer to interact with others
  • Structure versus Motive focus-Where we focus our attention when interacting

These dynamics are always operating in a situation, and if we become polarized along these dimensions as we interact with others, communication can become extremely difficult. However, we need to remember that we have at least one thing in common with every temperament.

Catalyst™ & Theorist™
have in common

Abstract/Catalyst™ic - Symbolic awareness, The mind's eye
Stabilizer™ & Improviser™
have in common

Concrete/Realistic - Experiential awareness, The body's eye
Catalyst™& Stabilizer™
have in common

Affiliation/Sanction - Want everyone to work within the norms or values of the
Theorist™ & Improviser™
have in common

Autonomy/Pragmatism - Want to control own actions to meet goals
Catalyst™ & Improviser™
have in common

Motive - Focus on why people do things.
Theorist™ & Stabilizer™
have in common

Structure - Focus on order and organization.


Temperament and the 16 Personality Types



Applications of Temperament

  • Change
    Change is a broad term we use when anything becomes different or is replaced. Considering change has such a sweeping definition, it is not surprising that change is all around us. Any workday may bring a number of changes, which can range from fairly minor details such as the type of coffee available to major modifications in policy and procedure....Read more...

  • Creativity
    Management expert Peter Drucker calls innovation, “change that creates a new dimension of performance” (Hesselbein, et al 2002). Innovation could not exist without creativity. To create new dimensions of performance, we need new ideas and new criteria. And we need to be personally involved, working from our restlessness with integrity....Read more...

  • Learning
    As well as knowing how you prefer to learn, you need to have a strategy for how to learn. A learning strategy will confirm specifically what is to be learned and why. When making a learning strategy, focus on and attend to the details of your learning, ensure that all the resources you need are available, schedule your time and resource use, and set specific goals and deadlines to work toward....Read more...

  • Networking
    Networking has become the single most important life skill in determining business and personal success. Your ability to be connected within your organization and externally with your network will determine your next promotion, sale, or job offer. Sadly, most people practice transactional networking and network only with those they think they have to in order to complete a transaction....Read more...

  • Project Management
    Imagine you are going to shoot a rocket to the moon. You don’t simply point a rocket in the general direction of the moon and blast off, hoping for the best. Yet that is exactly how many projects are launched, with great surprise and amazement—and finger-pointing—when the target is missed....Read more...

  • Relationship Success
    All interpersonal relationships face similar challenges. It is how you respond that makes or breaks the bond. Relationships should be about two people. There must be a match somewhere–something to relate around–whether the commonality is values, life-theme, career, shared history, type, chemistry, or philosophy of life....Read more...

  • Stress
    Temperament-related stress is not the same as the everyday stress of overwork, overindulgence, and worries over money, relationships, and so on. It results from the core needs and values of the temperament pattern not being met. As with most stress, it is worse when it is unconscious. Knowledge of one’s own temperament pattern can help manage and even prevent such stress....Read more...

  • Teams (Forming)
    It’s early in the life of the team and some of the members are looking to the team leader to provide the guidance and structure needed to get started. In order to satisfy all members, the team leader must make sure the following tasks are accomplished for each temperament....Read more...


facebook share icon linkedin share icon