MCU Temperament Battle: Tony Stark vs Thanos

Tony Stark and Thanos are great examples of two different kinds of choleric.

Stark is choleric-sanguine, which means his primary temperament is choleric and his secondary is sanguine.

The choleric aspect is clear in his self-confidence, pride and arrogance, and his air of being the smartest guy in the room (even if he is). He has an indefatigable belief that he can fix anything through his own genius and will.

The sanguine aspect comes through in his vanity, his love of acclaim (though he takes it lightly), his “playboy” love of nice things, and even the aesthetic value of his Ironman tech.

MBTI

Choleric-sanguine translates into either an INTJ or ENTJ. The top two functions are introverted intuition (Ni) and extroverted thinking (Te).

Stark’s Ni is expressed through his technology, which he creates and wields with the same intuitive, creative flair. Contrast this with Hank Pym and his inventions, which are depicted as difficult to control, rough around the edges, and Pym himself as testy and very particular.

While Stark’s Ni and technology are flawless and constantly evolving, his Te is prone to create problems – as shown in Age of Ultron and Civil War. If Stark stuck to developing his ever-advancing technology half the plot points of Avengers would never arise. It’s his judgement (Te) that backfires in spectacular ways.

For this reason I would argue Stark is INTJ, Ni his dominant and Te his auxiliary.

Thanos

Thanos is choleric-phlegmatic.

Like Stark, Thanos has an unrelenting self-belief and inner certitude. He is ambitious, though his ambitions are channeled into his own personal crusade to “save” the universe. He is convinced of his own importance as saviour of all life, yet approaches his goal in completely pragmatic and ruthlessly direct ways.

But Thanos isn’t interested in nice things or having fun. His secondary temperament is not sanguine but phlegmatic. His vision of retirement is an austere farmer’s hut. And far from Stark’s impassioned efforts to protect Earth, Thanos slowly and steadily moves his chess pieces into position.

MBTI

Choleric-phlegmatic is either ENTP or INTP. For NTPs the two main functions are extroverted intuition (Ne) and introverted thinking (Ti).

Thanos’ Ne is demonstrated in his eclectic collection of “children” who serve him in a “this kid might be useful one day” way.

It’s also evident in the very unconventional idea of randomly killing half a population to save it.

It’s also evident in his acuity: how quickly he seizes on a single word or reaction from an enemy and infers the bigger picture.

His Ti is evident in his pursuit of his ambition through what is revealed to be a long-term plan of obtaining the Infinity Stones over the course of about a decade.

Thanos is an excellent example of an NTP using external resources as their strength, relying on their own Ti and Ne to wage a strategic war and a tactical battle.

It’s not always easy to pick the difference between introverted and extroverted versions of the same type. It’s ultimately a question of which of the two main functions appears stronger.

In this case I would argue that Thanos is ENTP, because of the comparative weakness of his Ti and his singular focus on his ambition of saving the universe from itself.

Head-to-head

Both Stark and Thanos show poor judgement in their use of auxiliary thinking functions. Stark’s weaker Te leads him to make rash decisions without considering possible consequences or alternatives. He’s so used to being the smartest guy in the room, but doesn’t realise his Ni can be blinkered.

Thanos’ weaker Ti keeps him fixated on his deeply skewed “solution” despite all the self-evident flaws. He is so adamant that his way is the right way, and that the universe ought to thank him if only it could share his vision.

At one point Thanos tells Stark that they are both cursed by knowledge. But Stark’s knowledge was an intuitive vision of an alien threat, whereas Thanos’ knowledge was the subjective theorising of his own Ti.

Ni vs Ne

In their strengths the differences between these two cholerics is instructive.

While Thanos is a great warrior, his true strength comes from the powerful warriors, weapons, and Infinity Stones he has collected and made use of. Even the Infinity Gauntlet he wields is something he himself couldn’t create, but had to use the skills of others to obtain. It’s Thanos’ Ne that allows him to identify and exploit these external powers.

By contrast Stark is the kind of choleric who would do everything himself if he could (and sometimes does, using empty suits as extensions of himself). His power comes from his own Ni, which gives him an intuitive knowing that amounts to genius.

In real life choleric-phlegmatics will have skills of their own and choleric-sanguines will draw on the aid of others, but extreme characters like Stark and Thanos help us understand the core of these temperaments and how they are likely to behave.

Temperament Project 05: Why Does Temperament Matter?

Everyone is unique, but at the same time we are all the same.

Between those not-very-useful extremes, personality theories can help us group people together according to various traits.

Temperament is one way of grouping people. It’s useful because it reflects salient features of personality that we can observe in everyday life.

Without a system like the four temperaments we have to treat each individual as “same but different” to an unknown degree.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of temperament you can quickly and easily identify what drives a person and hence how they are likely to act and interact.

Threat analysis

We can tell that some people are “pushy” because they push us. It’s self-evident.

But have you ever been caught by surprise when someone who never pushed before, someone you thought you knew well, suddenly turns around and starts pushing hard?

If you don’t understand the temperaments you might take friendliness and shared interests at face value and think “this person is like me, we’re on the same page” and then be totally flummoxed when they do or say something that you would never do or say.

The fact is that people of different temperaments can have aligned interests or values in one aspect of life, but be completely different and at odds in every other way.

Melancholic vs Choleric

I’ve had my own share of experiences where I mistook friendship and shared values and interests to mean a shared understanding and similar personality.

But as a melancholic my interests and values always tended towards idealism while my choleric friends were always interested in ambition and standing.

As a melancholic my ideal of friendship is a deep personal connection with another individual. But for some cholerics friendship is more about having an entourage of useful and affirming people behind them.

As a melancholic my ideal of leadership is taking responsibility and making decisions in the best interests of the group. But for some cholerics that ideal is tempered by the perks and power of leadership for its own sake.

A choleric who seeks leadership does so because it’s a desirable position for him to hold. A melancholic who reluctantly takes leadership does it because no one else is willing, able, or competent enough.

Mindful interactions

These days I can pick people’s temperaments almost immediately. The more extreme they are, the easier to pick. And conversely the harder they are to pick, the more balanced and easy to get along with they are.

When I pick someone as choleric it means I know not to take offence if they say or do something that seems rude or arrogant from my point of view.

It means I don’t expect them to make idealistic decisions, so I’m not surprised when they do things that I would regard as impossibly cynical or pragmatic.

I’m aware that with some cholerics I’m being quickly and quietly assessed for my usefulness to them, and I make a point of not being useful 😅

But I also respect cholerics who have genuine skill, knowledge and expertise, and I have even greater respect for those who work against their ingrained pride and temper themselves.

I still have several choleric friends, and knowing them has deepened my appreciation for the variations within that temperament, while keeping in mind the basic nature of cholerics generally has helped me understand these individuals and avoid the conflicts that arise when I assume other people think like me.

Temperament Project 04: Excitability and Duration of Impression

We’ve mostly forgotten how to think like our ancestors, which is why concepts like “heat and moisture” don’t make immediate sense to us.

Jakob Henle

But alongside modern medicine, interest in the four temperaments persisted. That’s how we end up with interesting cases like the 19th Century German-Jewish anatomist Jakob Henle, for whom the Loop of Henle in the kidney is named (and whose marriage to a maid and seamstress was the inspiration for Pygmalion, and thence My Fair Lady).

Henle was at the forefront of cell physiology using microscopes, became a proponent of the then-unpopular contagion theory of infection, and developed the four basic categories of tissue still used today.

Henle also wrote on temperament, and sought to explain the widely accepted four types in more up-to-date biological terms, specifically in terms of the nervous system.

Excitation

When nerve cells receive a stimulus they become excited. Excitation in this sense simply means activity.

Henle believed that a person’s temperament was a reflection of the tonus of their nervous system: how easily excited the cells are, and how long they remain active or excited after the stimulus is removed.

Cholerics are excitable and form enduring impressions. This means they react strongly and quickly to stimuli, and their reaction lasts for a long time.

Sanguines are also excitable, but their impressions are comparatively short-lived, leaving them susceptible to distraction. They react strongly and quickly to one thing after another.

Melancholics are not very excitable. Our reaction to stimuli is comparatively slow and weak, but like the choleric our reactions last a long time.

Phlegmatics are not easily excited either, but unlike the melancholic their impressions are short-lived.

Worldview

Each temperament’s way of seeing the world can be viewed as an outcome of these characteristics.

Why are cholerics “ambitious”? Because they have strong quick reactions to stimuli and these reactions last a long time. What we mean by ambition is strong desire that endures.

Why do sanguines like nice things and good experiences? Because they too react strongly and quickly to stimuli, but because their reactions are brief they are constantly drawn to new and exciting things.

Why are melancholics “idealists”? Because we aren’t excited enough by stimuli, so we are drawn to ideas that magnify the significance of everyday life. A new car doesn’t excite us much. But a new electric car is enhanced by ideals like environmentalism, game-changing technological advancement and breaking of tired conventions. Now that’s exciting! (And I don’t even own one).

Why are phlegmatics easy-going and rule-abiding? Because they have slow, weak reactions like the melancholic, but these reactions are brief like the sanguine. They aren’t strongly excited by anything, and they don’t dwell on things either. Following the rules is just the obvious thing to do, especially if it helps everyone get along and avoid conflict.

Temperament Project 03: Heat and Moisture

While it’s nice to have observations like “cholerics are ambitious and melancholics are idealistic”, any attempt to truly understand human personality won’t be satisfied until it can reduce these kinds of descriptions to their most basic form.

Ambition and idealism are pretty complicated social, psychological, and behavioural phenomena. You can say that someone is born with ambition, but there’s no substance called “ambition” that we can study and measure.

I’m a cold, dry man

The Greeks had their own complex and interwoven theory on how these things worked.

The four elements and the four humours in the body were each described in terms of heat and moisture, and these applied directly to the four temperaments.

Fire/choleric is hot and dry.

Air/sanguine is hot and moist.

Earth/melancholic is cold and dry.

Water/phlegmatic is cold and moist.

These descriptions can be taken almost at face value if you understand that heat is life, movement, passion and activity, and moisture is pliable, malleable, soft and yielding.

Sanguines are hot because they are passionate, warm, active, energetic and lively. They are moist because they adapt easily, let go of conflicts and problems quickly, and are pretty much social glue holding everyone together.

Phlegmatics are cold because they are (comparatively) slow, quiet, less expressive and have lots of inertia. But they are still moist like the sanguine because they easily let go of things and quite happily adapt or go along with everyone, so long as no rules are being broken.

Neither sanguines nor phlegmatics have “hard edges” and both are relatively yielding under pressure. Like wet clay they can be reshaped without breaking, though both have their sticking points: injustice for the sanguine and rule-breaking for the phlegmatic.

Dry, hard, and brittle

Cholerics and melancholics are both dry, which means they are stiff rather than pliable, do not adapt easily, and like clay that has dried out, tend to hold their shape against other pressures or forces.

The difference is that the choleric is hot – so their dryness is given direction by this more passionate, active, lively, and energetic aspect. Like the sanguine a choleric has a certain zest for life, but where the sanguine energy is more spontaneous and malleable, in the choleric it takes on a hardness and longevity that we identify as “ambition” or “drive”.

The melancholic is cold, and that gives our dryness a passivity, quietness, and almost a heaviness of inertia. Both melancholics and cholerics take on a shape, like hardened clay, but the cholerics’ heat gives them the energy to move and strive, while the melancholic coldness leaves us reluctant to strive and in danger of sinking to the lowest point.

In extreme cases melancholics are described as being close to death, since the Greeks observed that a dead body loses its heat and becomes stiff. At the other extreme, sanguines are the most full of life thanks to their heat and moisture.

Four ways of living

These qualities of heat and moisture aren’t biologically sound in our current paradigm, so we can’t say that they “explain” the four temperaments’ different ways of living.

But they do expand on it, and show how the ways of living might be reducible to more basic factors.

Cholerics are ambitious because their dryness gives lasting shape to their hot, passionate, and energetic nature.

Sanguines are moist and so despite having the same kind of heat as the choleric, they don’t form lasting plans or ambitions but are instead continually shaped by their environment. Their hot passions and liveliness draws them to good experiences and nice objects, giving them the air of a bon vivant.

Melancholic dryness makes us hard and unyielding, but in the absence of hot passions and energy we lack ambitions. Instead we are left reflecting on our own circumstances and nature, including our lack of malleability and adaptability. This reflection and passivity draws us to ideals and meaning that promise far greater rewards and satisfaction.

Finally, phlegmatic coldness and malleability leaves this temperament similarly passive, but, unlike the melancholic, able to adapt and go with the flow. In their coldness they look for rules to follow rather than the strength of their own desire like the hot temperaments of sanguine and choleric.

Practical application

I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now consider your own temperament and those of your friends, family, and acquaintances.

Are they “hot” or “cold”? Passionate and energetic like the sanguine and choleric, or passive and quiet like the melancholic and phlegmatic?

Are they “moist” or “dry”? To me this comes across more as a feeling of softness or hardness to the personality.

There are many other ways of explaining or describing these four temperaments, but this is the original. As we look at a few more, we will develop a more rounded picture of each temperament and hopefully understand ourselves and others much better!

Temperament Project 02: the Four Temperaments at a Glance

We have to start somewhere so let’s begin with a brief depiction of each of the four temperaments.

Cholerics see the world in terms of ambition, accomplishment, and standing. They have high self-esteem and naturally put themselves forward. They are proud, and angry when thwarted. They like to compete, love to win, and will gravitate toward success and leadership.

Sanguines are drawn to nice things and good experiences. They love having fun, are quite easy-going, and while they can quickly become angry, especially at perceived injustices, they just as quickly let go of their anger too. Sanguines tend to be more easily bored and distracted.

Melancholics are drawn to meaning and ideals. They are reflective and often hesitant to act, inclined to pessimism and dwelling on their own failures and shortcomings. Melancholics love authenticity and hate inauthentic situations and people, yet they struggle to authentically express themselves and are prone to try to fit in with other temperaments.

Phlegmatics are generally very placid and easy-going. They are not strongly excited by anything, but hate conflict and being put on the spot. They love to follow the rules and will happily do their own thing or go along with the crowd.

More to come

There’s a lot more to come, but this should serve as a basis. Consider yourself and the people you know. Are they:

Ambitious and strong-willed (choleric)

Idealistic and cautious (melancholic)

Fun loving and easily distracted (sanguine)

Placid and rule-abiding (phlegmatic)

These four characterisations aren’t perfect, but we will refine them and expand on them in future posts.

Temperament Project 01: Getting Started

Blogging has helped me stay focused on some subjects, so why not use it to focus on writing my book about temperament? My aim is to write regular blog posts that will help shape and inspire an eventual book. Hope you like it!

What is temperament, and why should I care?

Temperament is the foundation of your personality. It’s the part of your personality hard-wired from birth, biologically based, that determines how you respond to the world.

It’s significant in the same way that physical attributes like height are significant. Some people are taller and some are shorter; and while your height doesn’t dictate anything about you, it does shape your experience and make certain outcomes more, or less, likely.

Being tall will give you an advantage in basketball, netball, swimming and some other sports, but it might be a disadvantage in weight-lifting, ballet, gymnastics or horse-racing.

Temperament is more complicated than height, but it has an analogous impact on your choices in life and the shaping of your personality.

Life-long traits

Contemporary psychology has studied aspects of temperament and found that traits identified in infancy will persist throughout life.

The ancient Greeks observed this too, and in their own proto-scientific context they came up with theories to explain these fundamental differences in temperament.

If the world was made up of four basic elements: earth, air, fire, and water, then obviously the human body must be governed by four basic substances too.

Blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile were the four fluids or humours that determined health or illness, as well as the foundation of the personality: the temperament.

The word temperament itself means blend or mix and refers to the blend of humours within the individual.

We each have all four humours within us, but one or two tend to dominate. Depending on the blend, individuals are categorised as sanguine (blood), phlegmatic (phlegm), choleric (yellow bile), or melancholic (black bile).

A perfectly balanced person would have all four in proportion. But most of us can be described by a primary-secondary blend. Thus a person with primary choleric and secondary phlegmatic is a choleric-phlegmatic.

But Greek medicine was wrong…wasn’t it?

Absolutely!

There’s no such thing as black bile, and there’s no indication that the other bodily fluids mentioned have any impact on personality or behaviour in the way the Greeks envisaged.

But observations are still valid data, even if the theory that attempted to explain those observations has been discarded.

In the case of temperament what we have inherited from the Greeks and the civilisations that adopted Greek medicine is a robust yet pragmatic set of observations spanning millennia.

We may not know yet what causes differences in temperament, but we do know that such differences exist, and the four temperament model remains a valuable framework for understanding, interpreting, and responding to those differences in ourselves and others.

Temperament theory: does 5 = 4+1?

This is mainly for commenter Josh, who thinks that the addition of a fifth temperament is a positive innovation over the traditional four temperaments.

I’ve written previously about the “fifth temperament”, which is the invention of a husband and wife team of Christian counsellors, Drs Richard and Phyllis Arno.

My objection to the creation of a fifth temperament is that it’s essentially an entirely new system that nonetheless uses terminology from the traditional four temperaments system.

This isn’t unusual. There are potentially infinite ways to slice up personalities and categorise them and many people have interpreted and used the traditional temperament theory in their own ways over the centuries.

But it’s simply not the case here that five is the original four plus one. You can’t cut a cake into four pieces and then “discover” a fifth piece. All you can do is cut the same cake into five instead, but now all the pieces will be different.

But is five better than four?

In China they have five elements. The Big Five factors of modern psychology have five factors. Even Ancient Greek cosmology actually has five elements if you include ether. So isn’t five a more appropriate number than four for a personality theory?

If you feel that five is a better number than four, then by all means use five. But that doesn’t change the historical fact that the traditional temperament system has always had four.

Why assume that the Greek system should match the Chinese one? Why not the other way around? Perhaps the Chinese five elements hampered their interpretation of temperament? Maybe they should embrace the more parsimonious four elements with regard to human temperament?

As for the Big Five – it’s not a temperament theory, merely a measure of personality traits. It doesn’t mean there are five types of personality. I’d love to see research into different personality types based on various permutations of the Big Five, since that would more closely approximate the purpose of the Four Temperaments theory. What I have found so far are people attempting to match the Big Five factors to MBTI functions: intuition seems to correspond to Openness, for example.

Regarding the Greek fifth element: according to wikipedia

“[in] ancient and medieval science, aether (Ancient Greek: Î±áŒ°ÎžÎźÏ, aither), also spelled ĂŠther or ether and also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere.”

Aether was not part of the terrestrial sphere, perhaps why it was not included in the makeup of human temperament or biology.

Four is better than five

Four is better than five because it can be reduced to a two-factor analysis. Occam’s Razor inclines us to accept the more parsimonious solution.

The thousands of years of temperament observations continued into the modern era with various attempts at identifying the underlying biological basis of temperament and the high point of this research came with Jakob Henle’s proposal that temperament was reducible to inherent qualities of the individual nervous system: the relative ease of nervous excitability versus the duration of this activity.

Excitability and duration of impression provide a parsimonious two-factor biological basis for the four extremes of temperament:

Choleric – excitable with enduring impressions

Sanguine – excitable with fleeting impressions

Phlegmatic – unexcitable with fleeting impressions

Melancholic – unexcitable with enduring impressions

By contrast, the Arnos’ five temperaments theory evolved from the FIRO tool developed by William Schutz

based on the belief that when people get together in a group, there are three main interpersonal needs they are looking to obtain – affection/openness, control and inclusion

I have no strong opinion on the FIRO tool, but it should be obvious that it’s attempting to measure complex behavioural traits in interpersonal contexts. According to wikipedia, Schutz himself did not think the FIRO should be used to determine personality type:

Schutz believed that FIRO scores in themselves were not terminal, and can and do change, and did not encourage typology; however, the four temperaments were eventually mapped to the scales of the scoring system, which led to the creation of a theory of five temperaments.

The Arnos are the ones who mapped the four temperaments onto the FIRO tool, and subsequently decided a fifth temperament was necessary.

It’s a personal choice

People who like Arno’s theory might well argue that the creation of a “supine” temperament better or more usefully describes a group of people who were perhaps previously included as a subset of melancholic or phlegmatic.

But it could equally be due to a weakness in the original FIRO tool, or the fact that the FIRO was a much broader attempt to explain or quantify all human interaction, not to simply describe temperament.

Regardless, the so-called “Five Temperaments” is an amalgamation of the FIRO tool and the four temperaments concept, but should be considered a deviation from the traditional four temperaments framework.

Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to subscribe to a particular theory of personality or temperament. But it’s also good to know what you are actually subscribing to.

I’ve found the four temperaments theory to be extremely powerful in categorising and understanding people. But at the same time, there are many superficial and inadequate renditions of the four temperaments out there. I can understand why some people might think the four need amending or supporting with other theories or tools.

I wouldn’t go so far as to innovate a new temperament, but I’ve found great benefit from Keirsey’s bridging of the four temperaments with the MBTI functions. Even so, there are aspects of Keirsey’s work that I don’t use. I use the MBTI to flesh out or add more detail to the four temperaments’ foundation. I don’t try to alter the four temperaments on the basis of the MBTI.

If anyone wants to argue that the “fifth temperament” is a legitimate and organic development of the traditional four temperaments theory, I would challenge them to present a case.

A note on interpreting old temperament material

It’s usually pretty negative.

Take it with a grain of salt. We don’t know which individuals informed the perspective of the various historical commentators on temperament. They might have had in mind people who would, in our context, be in need of intense psychiatric care.

What I’m looking for when I read this stuff is tendencies, trends, clues as to how temperament was interpreted.

They shouldn’t be taken as universally authoritative texts.

Especially since they often contradict one another at various points!

I mention this because a reader wrote inquiring about part of Kant’s work that I quoted at length. Kant was a pretty unusual guy himself, but what does he mean when he says:

In case of perversion of his feeling and lack of a cheerful reason he succumbs to the adventurous: inspirations, apparitions, temptations.

If the understanding is even weaker, he hits upon grotesqueries: portentous dreams, presentiments, and wondrous omens.

He is in danger of becoming a fantast or a crank.

I think what Kant is describing is one of the dangers for a melancholic who loses his way. I stand to be corrected by any scholars of Kant who might come across this, but my interpretation is that melancholics are prone to let their ideals become detached from reality.

A ‘fantast’ is a dreamer, someone off on an adventure who follows (as Kant puts it) inspirations, apparitions and temptations.

A crank is an eccentric…the kind of person who clings to dreams and premonitions and omens.

I think Kant is warning that we can go off in strange directions if our ideals deviate too far from reality. This is under the heading of “degenerate form of the character”, so it’s not something we should all worry about.

Ultimately this is just Kant’s view. It tells us something about Kant, and the things he observed. I approach it as something potentially useful, but not necessarily true.

Then again, I’m a bit of a fantast and eccentric myself.

Medieval Latin rhymes about temperament

On the preservation of health in Medieval rhyming Latin verse.

Note how they conflate personality with physical features. Subsequent sections of the verse go on to describe physical symptoms of illnesses attributed to excess of each humour.

Complexions cannot virtue breed or vice,

Yet may they unto both give inclination.

The Sanguin gamesome is, and nothing nice,*

Loves wine, and women, and all recreation.

Likes pleasant tales, and news, plays cards and dice,

Fit for all company, and every fashion :

Though bold, not apt to take offence, nor ireful,

But bountiful and kind, and looking cheerful :

Inclining to be fat and prone to laughter,

Loves mirth, and music, cares not what comes after.

 

Sharpe Chollcr is an humour most pernitious,

All violent, and fierce, and full of fire,

Of quick conceit, and there withal ambitious.

Their thoughts to greater fortune still aspire,

Proud, bountiful enough, yet oft malicious,

A right bold speaker, and as bold a liar,

On little cause to anger great inclined,

Much eating still, yet ever looking pin’d.

In younger years they use to grow apace.

In elder, hairy on their breast and face.

 

The Flegmatique are most of no great growth,

Inclining rather to be fat and square,

Given much unto their ease, to rest and sloth.

Content in knowledge to take little share,

To put themselves to any pain most loth.

So dead their spirits, so dull their senses are :

Still either sitting like to folk that dream,

Or else still spitting, to avoid the flegme,

One quality doth yet these harms repair,

That for most part the Flegmatique are fair

 

The Melancholy from the rest do vary,

Both sport, and ease, and company refusing,

Exceeding studious, ever solitary,

Inclining pensive still to be, and musing,

A secret hate to others apt to carry:

Most constant in his choice, tho long a choosing,

Extreme in love sometime, yet seldom lustful,

Suspitious in his nature, and mistrustful,

A wary wit, a hand much given to sparing,

A heavy look, a spirit little daring-

*Nice used to mean ‘ignorant/foolish’, then came to mean ‘finicky, very particular’. I suspect the latter meaning in this context. The Sanguine is gameson and not very particular or finicky.

A brief history of temperament

The four temperaments theory is the oldest and most consistently utilised theory of personality in the Western world.

Its origins lie at least as far back as the 5th Century BC when Hippocrates, the father of Greek medicine, described human health and composition in terms of four humours or bodily fluids: blood, bile, phlegm and black bile.

The four temperaments were further developed and codified by Galen, personal physician to Roman Emperors in the 2nd Century AD. Galenic medicine remained the authoritative medical paradigm in Europe until the 18th Century, and his texts were still studied as late as the 19th Century.

But even as Galen’s theories about the human body were slowly discarded, his observations of the human mind continued to fascinate philosophers, physiologists, and psychologists even to the present day.

What underlies temperament?

Various theorists have attempted to define the temperaments in terms of more basic physical elements.

Galen described them in terms of heat and cold on the one hand, and moistness and dryness on the other. The Choleric is hot and dry while the Melancholic is cold and dry. Sanguines are hot and moist, while Phlegmatics are cold and moist.

But with the advances of medicine people have sought to describe the temperaments in ever more up-to-date terms, corresponding to changes in medical or psychological paradigms.

The 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant described the temperaments in terms of either feeling or activity that was short-lasting or long-lasting.  A Choleric is characterised by long-lasting activity while a Melancholic has long-lasting feelings. Sanguines have short-lasting feelings and Phlegmatics have short-lasting activity.

A generation later the German “father of psychology” Wilhelm Wundt described the temperaments in terms of either strong or weak emotion and slow or rapid change. Cholerics have strong emotion and rapid change, while Melancholics have strong emotion and slow change. Sanguines have weak emotion and rapid change, and Phlegmatics have weak emotion and slow change.

Another 19th Century German, the physiologist Jakob Henle, suggested that the temperaments might arise from the inherent activity or tonus of the nervous system.

Henle described each temperament in terms of the speed and the duration of reactions within the nervous system. Cholerics have quick reactions of a long duration while Melancholics have slow reactions of a long duration. Sanguines have quick reactions of short duration, and Phlegmatics have slow reactions of short duration.

The famous Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov also studied the nervous system and he too drew on the ancient four temperaments to frame his theories.

For Pavlov the Choleric has a strong but unbalanced nervous system while the Melancholic has a weak nervous system. Both the Sanguine and the Phlegmatic are strong and balanced but the former is fast while the latter is slow. Though his studies focused on dogs, Pavlov applied his observations to humans also:

The melancholic temperament is evidently an inhibitory type of nervous system. To the melancholic, every event of life becomes an inhibitory agent; he believes in nothing, hopes for nothing, in everything he sees only the dark side, and from everything he expects only grievances.

The choleric is the pugnacious type, passionate, easily and quickly irritated. But in the golden middle group stand the phlegmatic and sanguine temperaments, well equilibrated and therefore healthy, stable


The phlegmatic is self-contained and quiet, – a persistent and steadfast toiler in life. The sanguine is energetic and very productive, but only when his work is interesting, i.e., if there is a constant stimulus. When he has not such a task he becomes bored and slothful.

The psychologists

While the physiologists were studying nervous systems and linking their findings to the four temperaments theory, the new field of psychoanalysis founded by the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud approached the same questions of personality and temperament from a more psychological, clinically-oriented perspective.

Freud’s collaborator and contemporary Alfred Adler developed a personality theory that mirrored the four temperaments system.

Adler described each type or temperament in terms of high or low energy and high or low social interest. Adler’s Choleric equivalent has high energy and low social interest while his Melancholic equivalent has low energy and low social interest. Sanguines have high energy and high social interest, while Phlegmatics have low energy with high social interest.

Other psychoanalysts broke away from the four temperament model as they delved deeper into their own theories and observations. Carl Jung, for example, described a more complex range of cognitive functions and mental predispositions that were later codified into the famous Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the most popular personality theory in operation today.

Yet the four temperament model was not entirely forgotten. It was retained primarily in the work of the psychologist Hans Eysenck, who described the four temperaments in terms of extroversion and neuroticism. Extroversion refers to how outwardly oriented a person is, while neuroticism is defined as a tendency to worry, anxiety, frustration, moodiness, and jealousy.

In Eysenck’s model the Choleric has high extroversion and high neuroticism while the Melancholic has low extroversion and high neuroticism. The Sanguine has high extroversion and low neuroticism, while the Phlegmatic has low extroversion and low neuroticism.

Temperament today

Modern trends in psychology and medicine make researchers wary of trying to match their research to pre-existing ideas and concepts like the four temperaments.

Contemporary psychology does draw on the concept of temperament, but it avoids the original four in favour of a research-driven approach. Psychologist Jerome Kagan is one example of an influential researcher on temperament, demonstrating throughout his career that key biological/behavioural traits in infants persist throughout adult life.

Kagan’s work focused on high and low reactive children, and he acknowledges that there are many other ‘temperaments’ or aspects of temperament yet to be studied.

Conclusion

For a lay person like me, learning about these different theories and approaches to the four temperaments adds to the sense that there’s a central phenomenon behind the archetypal four, and help us clarify exactly what the differences between them are.

As Kant wrote:

In this way the ancient forms can be preserved, and only receive a meaning better suited to the spirit of this doctrine of temperaments.

I still believe that Henle’s two-factor model of excitability versus duration of impression is the most fundamental, yet it helps me to have the others available too.

How better to explain a melancholic than “low energy, low social interest”? That’s me in a nutshell.

Other theories may seem more or less apt, but at the very least they show how different people have perceived the temperaments. We can also see where they have gotten it wrong, describing temperaments in ways that don’t at all accord with our experience, or letting their own temperament blind them to the true nature of the others.