A fifth temperament?

So apparently in the late-twentieth Century a husband and wife team set out to create a:

scripturally based therapeutic procedure that would produce effective, positive, and more immediate results with those needing guidance/counsel.

Along the way, Drs Richard and Phyllis Arno discovered the existence of a fifth temperament which they named “supine”.  I’ve come across this innovation a couple of times in the past, and the other day a reader expressed some surprise that I haven’t mentioned it on my blog. I promised to do a post on it after I’d done a little more research, and accordingly, here are my observations of the fifth temperament.

While Wikipedia has an entry on “five temperaments” there is little information on the concept beyond the Arnos’ work, which appears to be focused on their own enterprises in the US. I’m not hugely familiar with the intricacies of protestant Christian denominations in the States, but I did find that the Arnos not only run, provide certification in, and charge for reports from their Arno Profile System, they also founded and run the National Christian Counselors Association which provides training and certification for Christian Counselors, in association with various tertiary institutions.

As far as I can tell, this is the sole origin of the “fifth temperament” idea.

How does it relate to the traditional four temperaments system? Is the fifth temperament a genuine discovery?

As readers may know, the traditional temperament theory is a two-factor system. That is, each temperament is a combination of two variables: excitability and the duration of impressions. Cholerics are excitable with enduring impressions, Melancholics are not excitable with enduring impressions, Sanguines are excitable without enduring impressions, and Phlegmatics are neither excitable, nor do they form enduring impressions.

The Arnos also utilise a two-factor system as the basis for their temperament theory, but instead of excitability and duration of impressions, they utilised the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation system or FIRO-B, created by William Schutz in 1958.

The FIRO-B is two-factor in that it measures expressed behaviour – how much a person expresses to others – and wanted behaviour – how much a person wants from others. These two factors are applied across three domains of interpersonal need: inclusion, affection/openness, and control.

The four temperaments were at some point mapped onto Schutz’s system. This is not unusual, people have done the same with the Myers-Briggs types. And while directly correlating “expressed behaviour” to excitability and “wanted behaviour” to duration of impressions is not self-evident, the first problem to capture my attention lay in the inclusion of “moderate” categories along with the high/low dichotomy.

In the traditional temperaments theory, it was accepted that a person may be more or less melancholic without this signifying a difference in temperament. The four temperaments are extremes that can be combined, but also present to greater or lesser degrees.  Two pure cholerics can differ in the degree of their choleric tendencies. From the humourist perspective this could be understood as a person in whom yellow bile predominated, but with the caveat that yellow bile could still predominate to varying degrees.

For some reason, the FIRO-B describes the phlegmatic as having moderate expression and moderate wanted behaviour. This decision establishes a gap for a fifth temperament in the FIRO-B system. By contrast, the traditional system has no place for an “in between” temperament. Such an in-betweener would be perfectly balanced, an ideal balance of the four humours, a perfectly healthy human being.

The decision to create a space for a moderate temperament in the FIRO-B is not simply an error. Rather, it shows the disparity between the two factors of the traditional model and those of the FIRO-B. They may have some similarities, and they may result in similar temperament types, but ultimately they are different models that just happen to coincide at key points.  Excitability is not the same as expressed behaviour, and endurance of impressions is not the same as wanted behaviour.

In fact, if we examine more closely the combinations of the two factors within the different systems, it turns out that a direct correlation is not even possible. The FIRO-B shows the melancholic temperament as having low expressed and low wanted behaviour. But in the traditional system the melancholic has low excitability but “high” endurance of impressions.

One of the particular merits of the traditional temperament system is that it reduces aspects of personality to fundamental biological constraints. Excitability and endurance of impressions are not concepts, but facts of individual biology; tendencies towards degrees of expressed and wanted behaviours is, by contrast, highly conceptual and dependent on additional levels of theory about behaviour and social interaction.

Whatever its actual merits, the five temperaments theory is giving a different meaning to the traditional vocabulary.  It is therefore not accurate to say that a new temperament was discovered in the late-twentieth Century, but rather that a new system emerged and took on some of the language and concepts of the traditional temperaments theory.

This is not a big deal; there are a plethora of personality theories out there, and ultimately what matters is whether they are useful to people.  These systems are all imperfect ways of cutting up reality to make it easier to comprehend. However, it is good to be clear about the provenance and limitations of the theories we use. No one owns the traditional temperaments theory, but those of us who find it useful have a role to play in researching and understanding it, and laying out its strengths and limitations for others to see.  Avoiding confusion with new theories that use the same terminology is part of that role.





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