The History and Understanding of the Concept of Temperament

For several decades there has been a tendency in psychology to ignore or at least to underestimate the contribution of the previous generations in a given field of study. Many concepts, even theories, are presented in such a way as to give the reader the impression that they are new discoveries or original contributions, whereas in fact similar ideas or thoughts have been formulated decades and sometimes hundreds of years ago. This state of affairs is definitely true for research on temperament. The historical perspective allows a better understanding of the recent conceptualizations on temperament; it helps in making the distinction between the concepts of temperament and personality that are recently quite often used interchangeably. This perspective also shows that our knowledge oftempera-ment developed step by step, rather than by sudden discoveries as is often the case in natural or exact sciences.

Temperament from a Historical Perspective

To give a comprehensive historical review of conceptualizations of temperament that go back to antiquity several hundred pages should be written. In order to characterize thinking on temperament to be found only in the German 15th-century literature Schönfeld (1962) published a book of about 200 pages. Historical reviews regarding temperament may be found in somewhat older publications (Diamond, 1957; Ewald, 1924; Roback, 1931 ; W. Stern, 1921; see also H. J. Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985; Kagan, 1989b, 1994; Kohnstamm, 1989a; Strelau, 1969).

I limit my review to selected concepts and to only a few empirical studies on temperament which seem to be of special importance for a better understanding of current research in this area.

The Speculative Approach to Temperament

The beginning of research on temperament consisted mainly of speculations regarding the nature of this phenomenon. Many philosophers and physicians may be mentioned here as having some influence on further development in this field of study. For example, Kagan (1989b, 1994), who centers his research on the emotional components of temperament, acknowledged the contributions of Alexander Bain, Franz Gall, Joseph Spurzheim, and Sigmund Freud, among others.

In making a selection of views and speculations that are presented in this chapter I concentrated on these researchers and thinkers who contributed in a way that essentially influenced further development of temperament research.

The Ancient Greek Typology of Temperament

The concept of temperament has its roots in the thought of ancient Greek philosophers and physicians. The father of medicine, Hippocrates (4th century B.C.) developed a theory of humors to explain the states of health and illness and his follower, Galen (2nd century a.d.), also a Greek physician, supplemented this theory with a psychological interpretation.

The Four Humors Distinguished by Hippocrates as the Basis for Individual Differences. The starting point for Hippocrates' theory presented in the dissertation On the Nature of Man was the concept of primary elements of the universe introduced by Empedocles (5 th century B.C.). From these four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—Hippocrates educed four qualities: warmth, cold, moisture, and dryness, as well as four fluids (humors) of the organism. The humors were regarded as a manifestation of the four qualities. "The human body consists of blood, phlegm and two kinds of bile (chole)—white and black. These fluids determine the nature of his body and due to them man is healthy or ill. He is most healthy when the mixture of these fluids, their activity and amount are in a proper relationship" (Hippocrates, 1895, p. 195). An optimal relationship between these fluids is a source of health whereas an imbalance between them causes illness. Recovery consists mainly in the restoration of a proper balance among these four fluids. Several factors influence illness: among other things, nutrition and seasons of the year. For example, during winter the phlegm, the coldest of the fluids, plays the dominant role. In winter phlegm is the greatest secretion of human body. During this season most common illnesses are related to the secretion of phlegm. Blood dom inates during spring; during summer, white bile (chole), and in winter, black bile. According to Hippocrates the fluids derive from the following organs of the body: blood from the heart, phlegm from the head, white bile from the liver, and black bile from the spleen. In Hippocrates' theory one finds no references to temperament, nor did he describe relationships between the proportion of humors and behavioral characteristics.

Galen's Four Temperaments. Taking advantage of Hippocrates' theory of the four humors Galen developed the first typology of temperament, described in his monograph De Temperamentis (L. temperare— to mix, to combine in a proper proportion). He distinguished and described nine temperaments. The four that depend directly on the dominance of one of the qualities—warmth, cold, moisture, and dryness—he considered to be the primary (ordinary) temperaments. The four temperaments that are the result of pairs of these qualities (warmth-dryness, warmth-moisture, cold-dryness, cold-moisture) were considered secondary (derivative). The ninth temperament, which is a result of a steady mixture of the four qualities, was regarded as the ideal (optimal) temperament.

Galen's four primary temperament types, also well known among laymen, were named according to the humors that predominated in the body. These are the four types: sanguine (L. sanguis—blood), choleric (Gr. cole—bile), melancholic (Gr. melas—black, cole—bile) and phlegmatic (Gr. phlegma—phlegm, mucus). Galen gave a psychological (behavioral), although unsystematic and incomplete, description of these temperaments. A detailed description of Galen's theory with reference to its roots and also its relationship to extraversion and neuroticism has been given by Stelmack and Stalikas (1991; see also Howarth, 1988; Lester, 1990; Merenda, 1987; Ruch, 1992) and the theory recently has been viewed from a broader perspective by Kagan (1994).

The Merit of the Hippocrates—Galen Typology. A major contribution of the ancient Greeks to the knowledge of temperament is that they postulated individual differences in behavior that can be explained by physiological mechanisms. The variety of behaviors in which individuals differ can be reduced to a small number of basic (primary) temperament categories. Galen's typology must be regarded as a prototype of a causal, explanatory theory of temperament.

This fantastic conceptualization, in which the categories of temperament were linked to the excess or dominance of given humors in the organism, has found some support in recent studies regarding the biological bases of temperament. Namely, it has been shown that some temperament characteristics, especially those referring to emotions, are related to the activity of the endocrine system (see, e.g., Kagan, 1994; Netter, 1991; Zuckerman, 1991c).

The ancient typology of temperament gained remarkable popularity among philosophers, physicians, and psychologists especially in the 19th and the begin ning of the 20th centuries. Most of the contributions to the development or modification of Galen's temperament typology stem from Germany, from such authors as Ach (1910), Hellwig (1872, 1888), Hirt (1905), and Rumelin (1890). Also in other countries, many papers were published on the issues of temperament by taking the Hippocrates-Galen typology as a starting point, for example, in the United States (e.g., Ashmun, 1908; H. Davis, 1898), in France (e.g., Fouillee, 1895;Ribot, 1887; see also Balleyguier, 1989), in Italy (De Giovanni, 1891; Viola, 1906; see also Attili, 1989), and in Poland (Falkiewicz, 1874).

Two German scholars, Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm Wundt, were the most influential researchers and theorists on temperament of the two centuries preceding modern times. Their typologies of temperament were based on the formal characteristics of behavior.

Immanuel Kant: Temperament Expressed in Actions and Emotions

Kant (1912) presented a theory of temperament in his Anthropology published in 1798. According to him the biology of temperament consists of the bodily constitution and the humors as proposed by Galen. Kant believed that temperament as a psychological phenomenon consists of psychic traits determined by the composition of blood. Thus, like Aristotle (4th century B.C.), he mentioned blood as the component underlying temperament.

Kant's Typology. Two properties of blood determine to which category of temperament an individual belongs: the ease or difficulty of blood coagulation and the temperature of the blood (cold versus warm). Taking advantage of the labels introduced by Galen, Kant distinguished four temperament types. He used two criteria for separating them. The first was life energy (Lebenskraft) which oscillates from excitability to drowsiness: "Each temperament may be characterized by means of life energy (intensio) or by release (remissio)" (Kant, 1912, p. 228). The second criterion was the individual's dominant behavior characteristics (emotions versus actions).

In two of the temperaments, the sanguine and the melancholic, emotions dominate. The sanguine temperament is characterized by strong, quick but superficial emotions, whereas for the melancholic slow, long-lasting and deep emotional reactions are typical. The two remaining temperaments were separated with respect to the characteristics of actions. The choleric acts rapidly and impetuously whereas the phlegmatic acts slowly and inertly with a simultaneous lack of emotional reactions, Kant emphasized that there are only four simple temperaments analogous to the four syllogistic figures. This means, among other things, that there are no combined (e.g., sanguine-choleric) temperaments.

The Biotonus as a Concept Based on Kant's Theory. Kant's considerations on temperament no doubt influenced further thinking about this phenomenon. Two of his statements seem to be of special importance. First, temperament refers to the energetic characteristics of behavior. The energetic characteristics belong to the formal traits which play a crucial role in many temperament theories. Kant's description of temperament by means of energetic characteristics of behavior was elaborated more than a hundred years later by G. Ewald (1924), a German psychiatrist who introduced the concept of the biotonus. There are stable individual differences in the biotonus that are determined by the quality and speed of metabolism. Individuals with high biotonus are resistant to strong stimuli and fatigue and their typical vital energy recovers after a short period of relaxation. The opposite occurs in individuals with low biotonus. They are prone to fatigue, not resistant to strong stimuli, and need much time to recover (achieve good balance). Also, temperament expresses itself in human actions, and not only in emotions as some theories suggest.

Wilhelm Wundt: Temperament Limited to Formal Characteristics of Emotions

Wundt, when studying emotions and reaction time in his laboratory, with the aim of establishing general laws of psychic characteristics, was confronted with individual differences in the reactions under study. This led him to the conclusion that individuals differ in temperament. According to him temperament is a disposition that applies to drives and emotions. "Temperament is in relation to drive and emotion as excitability is in relation to sensory sensitivity" (Wundt, 1887, p. 422). Taking as a point of departure two features of emotional reactions—strength and speed of change-Wundt distinguished, as Galen did, four temperament types (see Figure 1.1). Cholerics and melancholics are characterized by strong emotions, sanguines and phlegmatics by weak emotions. Rapid emotional changes are typical for sanguines and cholerics and slow emotionaI changes for melancholics and phlegmatics.

According to Wundt each temperament has its advantages and disadvantages and the art of life consists in making use of each of the four temperaments depending on the specific situation with which the individual is confronted. This means that individuals can be characterized by more than one temperament.

Wundt's rather marginal considerations of temperament had, nevertheless, significant influence on the further development of temperament theories. This is probably due to the distinguished position he gained in psychology. Some issues raised by Wundt are worth mentioning here. Temperament refers to the domain of emotions (and drives) only. Exclusively formal features of emotions constitute the basis for characterizing temperament. In addition to the energetic aspect of reactions (strength of emotions) Wundt also considered the temporal characteristic (speed of changes). In contrast to Kant, who regarded temperament types as strictly separate categories, Wundt introduced the concept of a two-dimensional system for distinguishing temperament types.

Strong Emotions

Rapid changes of emotions

Strong Emotions

Rapid changes of emotions

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