yes, therapy helps!
The 4 temperaments of the human being

The 4 temperaments of the human being

May 6, 2021

One of the great areas of psychology is the study of personality.

However, when looking for ways to classify and describe the style of behavior and thought of human beings, not only has spoken about the personality, but there is another concept that throughout history, has also been used to try to capture the particularities of each person. This concept is called temperament , and try to account for those inclinations and tendencies of each that are more fixed, invariable and difficult to change.

What are the types of temperament?

The type of temperament of each person is usually understood as the basic structure on which the personality of each person is built , with all its details and particularities.


In the last decades this means that the term temperament has been used to refer to the genetics of each one, the inheritable part of the personality, which means that the temperament of each one would remain more or less unchanged independently of the things that we happen, the way we learn to manage our emotions, etc.

But ... how was born the idea that human beings have different types of temperaments that differentiate us from each other? The answer is in the theory of the 4 basic temperaments , that part of the idea that our way of being depends on several types of substances, or "humors", that circulate through our body.


The theory of the four humors

One of the first historical personalities to develop the theory of the 4 humors that would later give way to that of the temperaments was the Greek doctor Hippocrates .

Around the 5th and 4th centuries BC C., in ancient Greece that inhabited Hippocrates, was very important the belief that everything that exists in the world was composed of a few elements combined with each other. Hippocrates adopted this point of view in defending the idea that the human body is made up of 4 basic substances, also called humours.

For Hippocrates, these humors are the following :

  • Blood , whose associated element is air.
  • Phlegm , the element of which is water.
  • Yellow bile , which corresponds to the fire element.
  • Black bile , associated with the earth.

But Hippocrates was still a doctor, and that is why he made this humoral theory go more into the field of medicine than into that of psychology and personality . According to him, the fact that all of these substances are in equilibrium in our bodies makes us healthy, while a decompensation in the levels of the humours would produce diseases.


It was Galen of Pergamum who, in the second century a. C. made greater efforts to transform the theory of humors into a theory of basic temperaments.

The theory of basic temperaments

Galeno started from the idea that everything is made up of the mixture of 4 elements and that each of them corresponds to one of the humors of the human body to end up applying this vision to the primitive psychology of that time.

For this Greek doctor, the levels in which each of the humors in a human body are present explain the personality styles and temperament of this, which means that observing the quantities of these substances could know the style of behavior of a person, how he expresses his emotions, etc.

The 4 basic temperaments proposed by Galen were the following.

1. Blood temperament

The blood people they are characterized according to Galen for being cheerful, optimistic and always seek the company of others .

They show warmth when dealing with other people, their way of acting obeys more to the feelings than to the conclusions generated by the rational analysis. In addition, they change their minds easily and are little given to disciplined behavior, because they are guided by the search for immediate pleasure. That's why they often leave things unfinished. Its associated element is air.

2. Phlegmatic temperament

The phlegmatic temperament expresses a propensity to a way of behaving serene and calm and a way to approach goals persevering and based on rationality .

According to the theory of the doctor, people who stand out for this type of temperament value very much when it comes to thinking and doing things, rarely get angry and do not show too much their emotions, coming to seem somewhat cold. In addition, they tend to be somewhat shy and avoid being the center of attention or holding a leadership role. According to the theory of the 4 temperaments, these people corresponded to the water element.

3. Choleric temperament

The people who stand out for their angry temper they are especially energetic, proactive and independent. They show a tendency to be always dedicating themselves to an activity or undertaking projects and defend their opinions and positions with great zeal in the different situations they live.

In addition, they rely on their own criteria and do not fear entering into confrontation with others, so they are assertive and do not shy away from leadership positions. However, if this type of temperament is very extreme it can lead to the appearance of many conflicts and hostilities. The element with which they were related was fire.

4. Melancholy temperament

People with melancholic temperament are characterized, according to Galen, by being emotionally sensitive, creative, introverted, self-sacrificing and perfectionist . In some way, this type of temperament can be related to the recent concept of Highly Sensitive People (PAS), although defined in a much more ambiguous way.

Although they find pleasure in tasks that require effort and personal sacrifice, it is hard for them to decide when to start projects precisely because of that perfectionist spirit and because of the concern that insecurity produces of not knowing what is going to happen. Their mood varies easily and they show a propensity for sadness. Its element is the earth.

The theory of the 4 temperaments and psychology

The work of Galen has been a reference for many centuries of history, but nowadays it is not considered valid neither in medicine nor in psychology .

The reasons are that, on the one hand, it was not formulated on ideas and philosophical positions accepted today (the humoral theory) and on the other hand, that the way in which the different temperaments are described is very ambiguous. That means that although it may be inspiring to see your own personality reflected in one of these temperamental types, it is very possible that part of the interest that this simple classification system produces is due to the Forer effect, as occurs for example with the enneagram of the personality.

After all, in the time of Galen psychology as a science did not exist , and was just beginning to understand the functioning of the world and the human body resorting to ill-defined concepts, composed of several ideas that, although intuitively we could relate to each other, beyond this can not be justified that they are united. For example, there is no reason why within the phlegmatic temperament should appear serene character and rational thinking. Could not there be a serene and non-rational temperament?

The inspiring potential of Galen

However, that the theory of the four temperaments no longer has scientific validity does not mean that it has not served as inspiration for several theories of personality in modern psychology. Many students of personality have relied on the concept of temperament to develop their test and personality measurement tools, and today it is considered that genetic inheritance plays an important role in our way of being.


The 4 Temperaments (May 2021).


Similar Articles