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Differences between personality, temperament and character

Differences between personality, temperament and character

November 17, 2022

In everyday language the terms "personality", "temperament" and "character" are often used interchangeably; However, from Psychology, clear limits have been established between these three concepts, which account for differentiated aspects of human experience.

In this article we will define what personality, temperament and character are . For this we will make a brief review of the etymology of the terms and the use that has been given throughout history, as well as the point of view of scientific psychology with respect to their differences and similarities.

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What is temperament?

When talking about temperament we are referring to the biological and instinctive dimension of personality , which manifests itself before the rest of the factors. During the life of any person the environmental influences that it receives interact with its temperamental base, giving rise to the features that will characterize it and differentiate it from the rest.


The temperament is determined by the genetic inheritance, which influences in a very remarkable way in the functioning of the nervous and endocrine systems , that is, in the relative influence of different neurotransmitters and hormones. Other innate aspects, such as the level of brain alertness, are also important for the development of the personality.

These individual differences generate variations in different traits and predispositions; for example, the hyperreactivity of the sympathetic nervous system favors the occurrence of anxiety sensations, while extroverts are characterized by chronically low levels of cortical activation, according to the PEN model described by Hans Eysenck.


Historical evolution of the concept

In Ancient Greece the celebrated physician Hippocrates asserted that human personality and disease depended on balance or imbalance between four bodily humors: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood .

In the second century AD, about 500 years later, Galen of Pergamum created a temperamental typology that classified people according to prevailing mood. In the choleric type the yellow bile predominated, in the melancholic the black, in the phlegmatic the phlegm and in the blood the blood.

Much later, already in the twentieth century, authors like Eysenck and Pavlov developed theories of personality based on biology. Like Hippocrates and Galen models, both used stability (Neuroticism-Emotional Stability) and activity (Extraversion-Introversion) of the central nervous system as basic differentiating criteria.


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Defining the character

The character is the learned component of personality . It appears as a consequence of the experiences that we live, that influence our way of being modulating the biological predispositions and tendencies, that is, temperamental.

While there is not as much agreement about the definition of character as in the case of temperament, most proposals highlight the fact that it is derived from social interaction . This means that it depends on the context in which we develop, and therefore has a cultural origin.

At the beginning of the XX century the study of the character, or characterology, was a predominant tendency that would end up being replaced by the Psychology of the Personality; In the end, these perspectives were not too different from current models. Ernst Kretschmer and William Stern stand out among the authors who worked with the concept of character.

Currently in many cases no distinction is made between these elements , character and personality. Strictly speaking, the first term specifically designates the part of our nature that is determined by the environment, but the difficulty of separating it from the temperament makes the definitions of character and personality frequently overlap.

Personality: the sum of biology and environment

In psychology, the term "personality" is defined as a organization of emotions, cognitions and behaviors that determine the behavior patterns of a person. In the formation of the personality both the biological basis (temperament) and the environmental influences (character) intervene.

Therefore, the most remarkable aspect of the personality in comparison with the concepts of temperament and character is that it encompasses both. Given the difficulties in defining what part of the way of being is given by inheritance and what by the environment, this term it is more useful than the previous ones at a theoretical and practical level .

From psychology, a large number of conceptions of personality have been offered. One of the most influential is Gordon Allport, which also highlights the mental and behavioral manifestations and the organizational component, although it adds a factor of dynamism (continuous interaction with the environment) and individual specificity.

Every psychological theory about personality highlights different aspects of human experience. In addition to Allport's individualistic theory, among the most important are Eysenck's, which focuses on the biological dimensions, and those of the humanists Rogers and Maslow.

It is important too mention the situationist models , that approach the concept of personality to the behavior. From these perspectives, it is proposed that human behavior depends not so much on mental constructs as on environmental influences in a specific situation, or that personality is a behavioral repertoire.

History of the word "personality"

In Ancient Greece the word "person" was used to refer to the masks worn by the theater actors. Later, in Rome, it would be used as a synonym for "citizen", designating mainly the social roles of privileged and influential individuals.

Over time, the term "person" began to refer to the individual as being differentiated from their environment. "Personality", which was derived from this word, has been used since the Middle Ages to describe a series of characteristics that determine the behavioral tendencies of a person .


The 4 Temperaments (November 2022).


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