Temperament and Personality: Key Differences & Similarities

The main difference between temperament and personality is that temperament encompasses the traits a person is born with, sometimes referred to as a disposition, whilepersonality is a more complex concept that develops gradually throughout life and involves a person’s beliefs, thoughts, and preferences.

Since truly understanding what sets these two apart can be quite important for self-insight, our team set aside a few days for research and a detailed analysis of these two categories to help you zero in on your particular temperament and personality type.

Through your self-discovery, you’ll become more aware of your strengths and the challenges you face, and as a result, you’ll understand yourself better and improve the quality of your life and relationships.

Let’s dive in.

What is Temperament?

Temperament is the foundational part of a person’s personality. It encompasses their behavioral tendencies, which determine their behavioral and emotional reactions to what’s happening around them.

There are five behavioral tendencies:

  • Attention
  • Emotionality
  • Persistence
  • Reactivity
  • Sociability

Every individual has a distinct inclination toward each of these traits, and the combination of their inclinations makes up their unique temperament.

Let’s analyze emotionality and sociability, for example. Someone’s sensitivity, or lack thereof, doesn’t affect whether they’re outgoing or shy. Simply put, a sensitive person with an outgoing nature responds to situations differently than a sensitive and shy one. Similarly, an insensitive and shy individual’s reactions differ from those of an insensitive and outgoing person.

Therefore, the nuances between two people’s behavioral tendencies (in this case, emotionality and sociability) make their behavioral and emotional reactions different, ultimately differentiating between their temperaments and, ultimately, their behaviors.

Determining someone’s temperament requires an analysis of the following nine traits:

  • Activity level
  • Adaptability
  • Approach/withdrawal
  • Biological rhythms
  • Distractibility
  • Intensity of reaction
  • Mood
  • Persistence
  • Sensitivity

According to a study done at Washington University, recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have shown that temperament has a genetic link.

Over 700 genes that specifically control associative conditioning through molecular mechanisms for synaptic plasticity, long-term learning, and memory strongly influence a person’s temperament.

Therefore, depending on their genetic material, an individual can have one of the four temperament types commonly defined by humorism.

This ancient medical theory, also known as humoral theory or humoralism, suggests that humors (bodily fluids such as blood, black bile or melancholy, yellow bile or choler, and phlegm) determine people’s temperament.

While the humoral theory isn’t scientifically proven, it’s still used to describe the four temperament types, which we’ll analyze in the following sections.

#1. Sanguine

What is sanguine personality?

The sanguine personality is a temperament type whose name derives from sanguinity, a synonym for hopefulness, optimism, and cheerfulness. According to humorism, this temperament type is associated with blood, as its name derives from the Latin word “sanguis,” which means “blood.”

People with a sanguine personality are generally easy-going, exuberant, and joyful, as the name suggests. They approach challenges with confidence and excitement, taking each day as it comes and sharing their optimism with others.

With that in mind, it’s noteworthy that most people display traits of all four temperament types.

Thus, those with a sanguine personality commonly fall into one of the following three subtypes:

  • Sanguine-choleric. These individuals are often stubborn, enthusiastic, persuasive, and expressive.
  • Sanguine-melancholic. This sanguine subtype is defined by imagination, creativity, and an artistic nature.
  • Sanguine-phlegmatic: These people are generally approachable and tolerant, valuing their relationships above all else.

#2. Melancholic

According to the humoral theory, the melancholic personality is a temperament type associated with black bile, also known as melancholy, hence the name. This fluid does not actually exist, as opposed to the other three, and in ancient Greece, it was thought to be the fluid causing depression and other difficult ailments.

People with a melancholic personality are generally loyal, persistent, respectful, and patient. They highly value tradition, order, and structure, which is why they’re attached to their communities, families, and friends.

It’s also the reason melancholic personalities typically don’t enjoy unpredictable situations. Instead, they prefer to plan their activities and follow routines. They’re also very attentive to detail and tend to keep schedules, so they typically have no difficulty remembering special dates and events.

The melancholic temperament can blend with one of the other three types, resulting in the following subtypes:

  • Melancholic-choleric.These people are perfectionists with high standards for themselves and others.
  • Melancholic-phlegmatic. This blend makes for an accommodating and self-critical person with an affinity for structure.
  • Melancholic-sanguine. Individuals with this temperament subtype are systematic, analytical, and sensitive to other people’s needs.

#3. Phlegmatic

The etymology of phlegmatic personality is the most distasteful, as it is associated with phlegm. Besides being unexcitable and sort of slow-moving, those with this type share very little with the fluid itself.

People with a phlegmatic personality are typically calm, easy-going, and relaxed. They highly value their interpersonal relationships, seeking to maintain harmony and help those in need.

These individuals are often dubbed peacemakers due to their caring nature and conflict avoidance. They’re rational, practical, and observant people with a curious mind and the ability to compromise, which makes them fair team players.

The three blends of the phlegmatic temperament result in the following subtypes:

  • Phlegmatic-choleric. These people are determined, natural-born leaders and good listeners and counselors.
  • Phlegmatic-melancholic. This blend usually creates an independent, thoughtful, and quiet person.
  • Phlegmatic-sanguine. These individuals highly value their privacy and thrive on routine.

#4. Choleric

In ancient Greece, the choleric personality was often associated with yellow bile or choler, which was thought to cause a short temper.

However, the choleric temperament is more complex than that. Cholerics are ambitious, dominant, assertive, and prideful. They have good decision-making skills and leadership qualities, although they can sometimes come off as controlling and impatient.

The choleric temperament creates blends with the other three types as follows:

  • Choleric-melancholic. This combination makes for orderly, analytical, and methodical people.
  • Choleric-phlegmatic. These people are strong-willed, individualistic, and reserved.
  • Choleric-sanguine. This blend creates expressive, social, and persuasive individuals.

Now that we’ve covered the temperament types and subtypes, let’s move on to the concept of personality.

What is Personality?

Personality is a much broader term, encompassing the temperament and a lot of the other nuances associated with an individual's traits and preferences, as well as how they behave and interact with the world.

While temperament has genetic links and is more of a static category, an individual’s personality is a much more dynamic dimension, as it develops and evolves as they age.

Aside from temperament, it involves character, defined by core beliefs and moral codes, and various personality traits, such as the following:

Since personality forms throughout life, there are numerous factors that influence its development, including the following:

  • Culture
  • Family environment
  • Heredity
  • Socialization

Moreover, personality can change, albeit not significantly. Based on life experience, a person’s opinions, standards, and beliefs may shift as they age.

According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, personality has the following three elements:

  • Id. The id involves instinctual and unconscious traits and doesn’t depend on experience. As such, the id is essentially temperament.
  • Ego. This part develops from birth to the age of three and expresses the id’s impulses.
  • Superego. Between ages three and five, the superego emerges as an evolution of the ego. This element controls impulses and has two components—conscience and the ideal self.

Freud also proposed that these personality elements develop through five stages of pleasure-principle identification.

These stages are defined in Freud’s psychosexual development theory as follows:

  • Oral
  • Anal
  • Phallic
  • Latent
  • Genital

According to Freud, overcoming the challenges in one phase is necessary for the progression to the next one. He believed that a failure in that regard could lead to personality disorders later in life.

Aside from Freud’s, there are several other popular theories on personality development, such as:

Over time, other personality theories have emerged, some of which have gained significant popularity.

Let’s examine two of the most widely used frameworks and see how they define the concept of personality.

16 Personalities

The theory of 16 personalities

The theory of 16 personalities was developed during the Second World War and is somewhat based on the Jungian theory of personality.

This theory suggests there are 16 personality types divided into four groups: analysts, diplomats, sentinels, and explorers.

This categorization is based on the following personality dimensions:

Each personality type has a stack of primary and “shadow” cognitive functions. Primary functions are the four cognitive functions a person uses the most, while their shadow functions usually activate when they’re under stress.

Big Five

The Big Five personality test, commonly referred to as the five-factor model, is a personality assessment tool that was first developed in the 1980s to understand the connection between personality and academic behavior.

Several generations of psychologists have agreed on the following five traits crucial for a person’s unique personality:

  • Openness. People who score high in openness are typically adventurous individuals who enjoy challenges and thinking about abstract topics. Meanwhile, those who score low in this trait are generally traditional and “set in their ways.”
  • Conscientiousness. Scoring high in the conscientiousness trait means a person is attentive to detail, reliable, and routine-oriented. On the other hand, scoring low in conscientiousness translates to an individual who’s prone to procrastinating and resistant to structure.
  • Extraversion. If you score high in this personality trait, you’re likely sociable and impulsive. Scoring low in extraversion, however, means you tend to think through what you want to say and need alone time to recharge.
  • Agreeableness. A person who scores high in the agreeableness trait is typically helpful and mindful of other people’s needs. In contrast, a person who scores low in this trait is probably unconcerned with other people's feelings.
  • Neuroticism. People who score high in neuroticism often feel stressed out and worried. On the other hand, those who score low in this trait are generally relaxed and emotionally stable.

As you can see, the beginning letters of these traits spell out the word OCEAN, which is another name for the Big Five personality traits.

Temperament vs. Personality: Similarities and Differences

Temperament vs. Personality

Now that we’ve analyzed both individually, let’s dive deeper into temperament vs. personality similarities and differences.

While both speak volumes about a person’s nature, preferences, thoughts, and habits, temperament and personality origins and outcomes are very different.

Differences

Firstly, temperament is a combination of inborn traits, and it doesn’t change throughout life. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that nature, rather than nurture, determines someone’s temperament.

Personality, on the other hand, is a broader concept that includes temperament, personality traits, and character. It develops as we age and is susceptible to changes, including changes in opinions and beliefs.

Thus, it’s safe to say that nurture plays a major role in determining personality because factors such as family dynamics, socialization, and overall life experience influence personality development.

Similarities

Although different, these concepts are interconnected in the sense that, in early childhood, temperament determines interactions and reactions, which then shape a person’s personality. Therefore, temperament is not only a part of personality but also a major influence on its development.

Despite their many differences, temperament, and personality have some similarities. Namely, both affect your perception of the world, interactions, and reactions to situations.

Additionally, certain personality types and temperaments are very much alike. For example, an ESFP closely resembles a sanguine personality, as both are outgoing, spontaneous, and lively.

Character and Behavior vs. Temperament and Personality

Character and behavior differ from temperament and personality, although these terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably.

As we mentioned earlier in the article, character is a set of a person’s moral codes and core beliefs and a segment of their personality. Meanwhile, behavior is the way an individual acts and carries themselves. As a collection of behavioral tendencies, temperament directly influences behavior.

Why It’s Important to Know Your Temperament and Personality

Knowing your temperament and personality traits can help you better understand yourself. For example, determining your temperament can shed some light on the reasons behind some of your reactions to situations and interpersonal relationships.

Meanwhile, learning your personality type can clarify your perception of the world and the people around you. Additionally, it can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you can emphasize the former and work on the latter.

Lastly, knowing your personality type can offer some useful relationship and career guidance. For instance, you can learn what personality types you’re compatible with and what jobs would be a good fit for you.

How to Know Your Temperament and Personality

You can discover your temperament and personality type by taking the tests carefully designed to determine associated traits.

The temperament test consists of a series of questions that assess your innate responses to different internal and external stimuli.

Meanwhile, the 16 personality test and the Big Five test focus on identifying your motivations, interests, communication style, and emotional makeup.

Key Takeaways

  • Common temperament and personality examples include sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, and choleric types and 16 personalities, respectively.
  • Temperament is an inborn quality, whereas personality develops throughout life depending on life experience.
  • Temperament is a part of personality and contributes to its formation.
  • Learning about your temperament and personality types can help you better understand yourself and improve the overall quality of your life.
  • Character is a part of personality, while behavior often depends on temperament.

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