Dimensions of Temperament
Updated: 20 June 2020
Looking at the 4 personality types depicted in the graphic above, which most accurately describes you? By ‘you’, we mean the natural you, the you you don’t have to work at, the you which feels most comfortable to you when there are no pressures to be anyone else.
We’re talking about the you you were born with: your natural temperamental type. Of course, very, very few people remain totally true to that type in all circumstances – especially when their vMEMES motivate them to do things beyond their temperamental type. (For example, as someone slightly on the Melancholic side, when leading a workshop event, I find my ORANGE’s achievement orientation will lead me to perform in an outgoing, even charismatic way that contains little hint of my natural mild Introversion.)
How much you are any one type will depend on where you tend to locate naturally on each of the 2 Dimensions of Neuroticism and Extraversion. A number of studies have supported Hans J Eysenck’s (1967) contention that our default position on these Dimensions is birthed in us. One such was James Shields (1976) finding that monozygotic (MZ) twins were significantly more similar in Extraversion and Neuroticism than were dizygotic twins. Equally notable is the w0rk of John C Loehlin (1992) who found, in MZ twins reared together, correlations for Extraversion of 0.51 and Neuroticism of 0.46; in MZ twins reared apart Loehlin found correlations of 0.38 for both Extraversion and Neuroticism, suggesting differing environments made only small differences compared to the effects of being genetically identical.
However, most people can and do move along these axes, according to circumstances and especially if those circumstances require a vMEME shift. Though it will take considerable regular reinforcement, people can be conditioned by either positive reinforcement or positive punishment to behave substantially different to natural type. However, as William Moulton Marston (1928) pointed out when considering how and why behavioural traits shift, there is always a natural tendency to revert to type when under severe pressure. There again, the new science of Epigenetics is currently challenging many of the ‘givens’ of Genetics. Elements of the ‘Human Condition’ may not be as fixed as Eysenck thought, with genes being switched on and off by environmental influences which may explain why some people do appear to change key aspects of their temperament as they go through life.
The concept of Phlegmatic, Choleric, Melancholic and Sanguine temperamental types has its roots in the ancient Greek medical philosophy of the 4 Humours, first thought to be described by Hippocrates and then popularised in the writings of the 2nd Century Roman physician Claudius Galen. Such is the accuracy of this typing system that it has stood the test of time and attempts have been made to give it a scientific basis – initially by Wilhelm Wundt (1879), one of the founding fathers of modern Psychology, and then more especially by Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1927) in his famous work on conditioning dogs, from which Classical Conditioning was developed. The generally little-known and incomplete Pavlovian version was refined, advanced and completed by Eysenck; and it is Eysenck’s version* represented in the graphic above.
Neuroticism & Extraversion
It was in 1947 that Eysenck factor-analysed 39 items of personal data for each of 700 neurotic soldiers, including brain damage, physical illness and personality ratings. 2 uncorrelated factors emerged: Introversion-Extraversion (E) and Neuroticism-Stability (N). Introverts and extraverts had already been identified as distinctive characteristic/categorical types by Carl Gustav Jung back in 1921; however, Eysenck saw Extraversion as a dimensional scale. As with Neuroticism, Extraversion is assumed to be a normal distribution amongst a general population so that most people will score somewhere in the middle and very few at either extreme.
Taking his cue from Pavlov’s notion of ‘nervous types’, Eysenck attributed someone’s position along the Extraversion axis to the level of electrical stimulation in the cerebral cortex from the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS). The main function of the ARAS is to maintain an optimum level of alertness or ‘arousal’. It does this by enhancing the incoming sensory data to the cortex through the excitation of neural impulses…or it can damp them down. In extraverts the ARAS causes inhibition which reduces the intensity of sensory stimulation reaching the cortex. For introverts the ARAS builds up excitation which increases the intensity of sensory information reaching the cortex. The result of this is that introverts have a lot of internal activity and, therefore, seek a ‘quiet life’ to avoid further, external stimulation whereas extraverts are proverbial ’emptyheads’ who seek external stimulation to fill the void inside.
In 1965 Eysenck wrote: “The typical introvert is a quiet, retiring sort of person, introspective, fond of books rather than people; he is reserved and distant except to intimate friends….He does not like excitement, takes matters of everyday life with proper seriousness and likes a well-ordered mode of life. He keeps his feelings under close control, seldom behaves in an aggressive manner and does not lose his temper easily. He is reliable, somewhat pessimistic….
The typical extravert is sociable, likes parties, has many friends, needs to have people to talk to and does not like reading or studying by himself. He craves excitement…is carefree, easy-going, optimistic and likes to ‘laugh and be merry’. He prefers to keep moving and doing things, tends to be aggressive and lose his temper easily; altogether his feelings are not kept under tight control and he is not always a reliable person.”
Neuroticism – not to be confused with neurosis (though there may be a relationship) – depends on how easily excited the limbic system’s amygdala is. (Take this test: if someone shouts “Fire!”, do you go “Oh, yeah…. Where?” (Stable) or have you already jumped through the nearest window to escape before the shout has faded (Neuroticist)?
Eysenck attributed the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) as reacting to a highly-reactive amygdala to produce the stress symptoms associated with displays of Neuroticism – eg: increases in heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, sweating, adrenaline production, etc.
Eysenck (1965, excerpts) describes the typical high N scorer as “…an anxious, worrying individual, moody and frequently depressed; he is likely to sleep badly and to suffer from various somatic disorders. He is overly emotional, reacting too strongly to all kinds of stimuli and finds it difficult to get back on an even keel after each emotionally-arousing experience.”
The low N scorer “…tends to respond emotionally only slowly and generally weakly and to return to baseline quickly after emotional arousal; he is usually calm, even-tempered, controlled and unworried.”
Types & traits
Eysenck’s Dimensions – producing types or supertraits – are the highest level of a hierarchy. Next level down are a number of personality (or temperamental) traits that are correlated in certain patterns that suggest the more complex concepts of types or supertraits. For example, Extroversion is a type or supertrait based on the observed correlations of sociability, liveliness, activity, etc.
Below the traits are the habitual responses – typical ways of behaving linked to a trait – and below that the specific responses – responses specific to one particular occasion.
The structure of Eysenck’s hierarchy is shown left and applied to Introversion and Extraversion below.
Since the original 1947 study, E and N have been found in a number of studies replicating Eysenck’s findings.
There have also been findings with implications for those who deal with people who are strongly introverted and extroverted.
Steve Harkins & Russell Green (1975) found that introverts were significantly better at vigilance tasks which require prolonged periods of intense concentration. However, extraverts were more likely to try to change an unsatisfactory situation. Eysenck (1970) discovered that introverts had lower pain thresholds while extroverts were more susceptible to the adverse effects of sensory deprivation. Working with his son, Michael, Eysenck (1985) found that extraverts were more likely to change jobs and sexual partners more frequently, more likely to divorce, show less brand loyalty in shopping behaviour and move house more often.
Interestingly, in an unpublished study by N N Trauel (1961), reported in Hans J Eysenck (1967), extraverts were shown to have more difficulty obeying instructions and conforming to expectations because they felt the need to express themselves. This may be evidence that strong extraverts may favour the self-expressive warm side of the Spiral to amplify external stimulation while strong introverts are comfortable with the self-sacrifice/conformity cool side of the Spiral to minimise external ‘noise’. Supporting Trauel’s findings, Vivian John Shackleton & Clive Fletcher (1984) suggest that introverts are more conformist and more cautious than extraverts.
A third dimension of temperament
Eysenck later (with his wife, Sybil, 1976) identified a third natural Dimension, Psychoticism (P) – not to be confused with psychosis, though they may share characteristics.
People who are very high in Psychoticism are likely to be impulsive, compulsive, totally self-focused, reckless, aggressive, and may display anti-social behaviour and be sexual predators. According to Eysenck & Eysenck, “A high scorer…may be described as being solitary, not caring for people, he is often troublesome, not fitting in anywhere. He may be cruel and inhumane, lacking in feelings and empathy, and altogether insensitive, He is hostile to others, even his own kith and kin, and aggressive even to loved ones…he likes to make fools of other people and to upset them.”
At the other extreme (which Eysenck sometimes termed ‘Impulse Control’), those who are very low in Psychoticism are likely to be very empathetic and caring but may be indecisive and servile to the point of abasement.
If this sounds like there may be a gender element to the extremes of Psychoticism, then that would be reflected in Eysenck’s attribution of Psychoticism to the amount of testosterone released into the body via the endocrine system. Testosterone is the most prominent of the male sex hormones – associated with sex drive and aggression – so no surprise that Eysenck found the vast majority high in Psychoticism were male. However, females do have testosterone in their bodies – and some more than others (from hormone washes in the womb and during puberty…plus regular secretions from the adrenal glands…plus oestregen converts to testosterone during sexual activity and quite markedly in some women during and after the menopause). Which explains the small(-ish) number of women high in Psychoticism.
D Lester (1989) linked Psychoticism to levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.(which has also been linked to psychosis and Schizophrenia). Eysenck himself (1992) implicated low levels of platelet monamine oxidase; and there have been suggestions that beta-hydroxylase, cortisol and noradrenaline in cerebrospinal fluid may also be involved. In his last work Eysenck (1998) suggests that the P dimension may also based on the cortical arousal level in the central nervous system and, therefore, high P-scorers, like high E-scorers, have a low level of cortical arousal.
The sex difference in the occurence of Psychoticism may have another biological factor besides testosterone levels. Ruben Gur et al (2002) found that, compared to men, women have proportionately larger frontal brain regions which exert inhibitory control over behaviour in relation to the size of the amygdala, hippocampus and other limbic system areas associated with emotional arousal. As a consequence, Gur et al suggest women may be able to control emotional responses – Impulse Control – better than men.
Many people confuse Neuroticism with neurosis and Psychoticism with psychosis. However, even though he first began to identify Psychoticism in 1952 through work with psychiatric patients, Eysenck (1995) was at pains to stress that N and P may only represent a potential predisposition – a diathesis – to develop psychological disorders. However, Gordon Claridge (1985) asserts that, under extreme stress, the predisposition can develop into a psychiatric illness.
Eysenck linked high Psychoticism, Extraversion and Neuroticism to a strong potential to develop a ‘criminal personality’.
Evaluation of Eysenck’s Theory
Although he did allow for environmental influences – which have to be factored in much more as we gain a greater understanding of epigenetic modification – Eysenck was convinced where somebody was located on each of the 3 dimensions was primarily birthed in them – ie: through their genes. He supported this conviction with studies in 24 nations – (Hans J Eysenck & Sybil B G Eysenck, 1982) – including African, Asian, North American and European cultures, finding that this Extraversion-Neuroticism-Psychoticism model seemed to be universal, thus suggesting temperament is largely determined genetically.
Sybil B G Eysenck (1965) also supported the theory via her testing of children across a number of cultures with the Junior Eysenck Personality Questionnaire translated into many languages, the consistency of results again suggesting the basic variations in temperament are universal.
Several studies have lent support to Eysenck’s proposed biological underpinnings to his theory. Gordon Claridge & R N Herrington (1962) found that introverted neurotics were more difficult to sedate than extraverted neurotics – theoretically, this would be due to over-stimulation of the cortex from the ascending ARAS. Eysenck (1995) himself cites several empirical studies which show that anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs decrease Neuroticism while adrenergic (adrenaline-boosting) drugs increase it. He also cites studies where hallucinogens increase psychotic behaviour while narcoleptics (anti-psychotics) decrease it.
Eysenck’s finding of only 3 dimensions of temperament may seem reductionistic – or even simplistic – in comparison to Raymond Cattell’s (1957) much-lauded 16 PF (aka 16 Personality Factors). However, attempts to re-analyse Cattell’s data by Warren T Norman (1963), among others, resulted in a 5-factor model. Further attempts to define ‘personality’ along Cattell’s lines – most notably Paul Costa & Robert McCrae (1985) – have also produced 5-factor models. Both Norman and Costa & McCrae include Extraversion; the latter also clearly define Neuroticism while Norman goes part-way with ‘Sensitivity’. Again, Norman goes part-way to Psychoticism with his ‘Unstructured’ dimensional pole. Lewis Goldberg (1993) asserts that Psychoticism is effectively split by Costa & McCrae into their factors of ‘Agreeableness’ and ‘Conscientiousness’. However, the Cattell-derived models, while seeming to expand Eysenck’s model marginally, do not offer biological theoretical underpinnings.
The Myers-Briggs Typing Inventory, developed by Katherine Briggs & Isobel Myers (1956) from the ‘psychological types’ proposed by Jung, very much centres on Introversion-Extraversion as categorical types but it should be noted that Jung admitted his psychological types were based on informal observations and speculation, rather than rigorous testing.
Both the Myers-Briggs/Jungian and the Cattell-derived models mix cognitive and motivational factors in with temperamental factors in their attempts to explore ‘personality’ and thus cannot be seen as discrete models of temperament. The Eysenck model is not entirely clean of cognitive and motivational material but the vast bulk of it is concerned with purely temperamental factors.
The Enneagramme is often seen as model of temperament that complements the Gravesian approach to motivation – see Spiral Dynamics & the Enneagramme. However, there is, as yet little scientific exploration of the Enneagramme which is thought to have originally come out of Sufi mysticism.
The relevance of temperament
The work of Eysenck and others in this field, such as Jerome Kagan (1984; 1994), is vital to our understanding of the human psyche and the development of Integrated SocioPsychology. Beneath the schemas and meta-states, which can be worked on with Cognitive and NLP-type therapies, lie innate temperamental dispositions. People can be conditioned to go beyond their innate dispositions and higher vMEMES may lead them to want to go beyond them. Enough of this and epigenetic modification may lead to some degree of permanent change in temperament. We’re in the very early stages of understanding Epigenetics and just how far environmental factors can modulate the expression of genes. Commentators such as Eysenck and Kagan assert that people who experience major changes in temperament are a relatively-small minority. (By change here, we don’t mean the inevitable and minor changes in temperament that occur through the natural ageing process – eg: reducing testosterone levels in men over 50 leading them to be less aggressive and less sex-motivated.) Thus, the likelihood is that, essentially, a shy person is likely always to be a shy person. They may be less shy with some people in certain circumstances – learned or motivational response – but they have a default shyness (temperamental).
Moreover, it would appear, from the work of the likes of N N Trauel, that our temperamental dispositions can influence our preferences in ascending the Spiral and, from the work of Julian B Rotter (1966), amongst others, our locus of control in forming meta-states.
So, for anyone dealing with people, from parents to therapists to managers, etc, understanding temperamental dispositions and dealing with their less-helpful aspects is a must!
*Note: Eysenck referred to his model as ‘Dimensions of Personality’. ‘Dimensions of Temperament’ is preferred here for clarity. There is considerable debate amongst psychologists as to the precise meaning of ‘personality’ whilst ‘temperament’ seems to be universally understood.