History of Personality Dimensions®

Personality Dimensions® is a model for exploring four temperament patterns. The concept of temperament itself has a long history, going back in a variety of forms some 2500 years. This section describes some of the key individuals whose theories and frameworks have contributed to the development of temperament theory and its current formulation and application.

The Pre-Psychological Era

Often referred to as the father of medicine, Hippocrates systematized a common belief among the ancient Greeks which claimed that illness was the result of an imbalance of four bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. This theory proposed that an excess of one of these fluids (or humours) caused particular illnesses. Hippocrates taught that the cure for illness was thus to restore all four fluids to an even balance. Hippocrates himself did not teach a theory of temperament, but laid important ground for Galen, who did.

Galen was the most famous physician of his day. Like Hippocrates, the physician Galen believed illness to be the result of an imbalance of the four humours and the cure was to rebalance them. However, Galen went further in linking the excess of a particular humour with specific behavioural traits and mental dispositions, which he referred to as “temperaments” (the Latin word actually means “proper mixture”).

It is important to note, however, that Galen considered these excesses to be the source of illness. He taught that the desired state was that of an even balance of all four body fluids. He believed that when the four humours were in balance, the result would be an optimal temperament. In his treatise, On Temperaments, this is described as:

“The best temperate man is he who in the body seems to be in the mean of all extremities, that is skinniness and fatness, heat and coldness … and regarding the body this is the best temperament man. And in his soul he is in the middle of boldness and timidity, of negligence and impertinence, of compassion and envy. He is cheerful, affectionate, charitable and prudent.”

Thus Galen’s use of the term temperament differs from current usage (which refers only to psychological disposition). Galen used it to refer to bodily dispositions as well as to the behavioural and emotional symptoms used to diagnose which of the four humours was out of balance. While his behavioural/emotional descriptions for each of the four temperaments are sparse and are scattered throughout his writings, a summary of his temperament framework would include the following:

Temperament NameBody Fluid in Excess Behavioural Characteristics
CholericYellow BileImpetuous, deceitful, extravagant, bold
Melancholic Black BileFearful, depressed, discontent
PhlegmaticPhlegmLazy, sleepy, languid
SanguineBloodMerry, sociable, volatile

Avicenna, called “The Prince of Physicians,” was a Persian doctor whose views on disease were discussed in his treatise, Canon of Medicine. Encyclopedia Britannica has called this work the single most important book in the history of medicine, East or West. It became the standard medical text throughout Asia and was the primary medical text in European universities until the 18th century. Avicenna extended Galen’s theory of temperament-based diseases by elaborating on his temperament descriptions, including within them emotional aspects, mental capacity, moral attitudes, self-awareness, movements and dreams.

Kant is primarily known as one of history’s most important philosophers. However, in his book, Anthropology From a Pragmatic Point of View, Kant laid out his understanding of temperament. An important difference in Kant’s approach from the humour-based approach of the previous medical theorists was a clear distinction between one’s physical temperament and one’s psychological temperament. In Kant’s view, these two had different sources. It was in the area of psychological temperament that Kant developed his views of the four temperaments, which he still referred to as Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic.

Kant argued that there were only four temperaments, and that each temperament was independent from the others—there were no combinations. He divided the four temperaments into two categories, those of feeling and those of activity. The Sanguine temperament was characterized as having strong, but short-lasting feelings. Melancholics had weak but enduring feelings. The Choleric temperament was characterized by intense, but not persistent, activity. The Phlegmatic was described as inactive, but enduring.

Late 19th to Mid 20th Century Theorists

During the early years of psychology as a social science, numerous individuals in Europe and in North America discussed innate predispositions. Classifications of temperament varied widely, but all agreed that individuals possessed innate, biologically-based psychological inclinations. The following is a brief account of several of the key figures leading up to the development of Personality Dimensions®.

Adickes was a German philosopher writing in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of his works were reflections on the work of Immanuel Kant. In 1901, he argued that one could only understand various philosophical systems by paying attention to the personality of the individual promoting a particular philosophical point of view. In 1905, Adickes introduced the concept that people could be characterized by their dominant world view. The four world views he proposed were Innovatives, who liked to change things and seek new ways; Traditionals, who preferred the world to remain stable and predictable; Doctrinaires who sought doctrines that were of value to mankind; and Skepticals who needed to understand the reason or rationale behind things.

James is one of North America’s most important psychologists/philosophers. Best known for his work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, James also contributed to the development of philosophical pragmatism. In his 1907 book, Pragmatism, he stated – similar to Adickes – that an individual’s temperament made a significant contribution to one’s understanding of the world, and to the philosophical framework that a person found most appealing. James argued that the history of philosophy was, in fact, just a clash between different temperaments.

James distinguished between two different temperaments, the rationalist and the empiricist. The primary distinction between these two lay in the way that each treated facts. The empiricist, James argued, loved facts plain and simple and were prone towards naturalism and a more pessimistic outlook. In contrast, rationalists were partial towards abstract and eternal principles and tended to be idealistic and optimistic. James summarized the difference in traits between these two basic temperaments by categorizing rationalists as “tender-minded” and empiricists as “toughminded.”

He summarized the distinctions with the following chart:

The Tender MindedThe Tough Minded
Rationalistic (going by “principles”)Empiricist (going by “facts”)

Spranger was a German psychologist who classified personality types by each type’s dominant values. As Spranger used the term, values were defined as the constellation of likes, dislikes, attitudes, shoulds, inner inclinations, rational and irrational judgements, and biases that determine a person’s view of the world. In his 1914 book Types of Men, he defined six primary value-based types.

ValuePersonality Type Characteristics
Theoretical Values the discovery of the truth and knowledge
EconomicValues the usefulness of things
AestheticValues form and harmony and enjoying each moment for its own sake
SocialValues love of people
PoliticalValues prestige and power
ReligiousValues comprehension of, and unity with, the cosmos

Kretschmer, a German psychiatrist, developed a type scheme that sought to classify individuals by the sort of psychological disorders they were prone to develop. In Kretschmer’s words, “psychoses are nothing but exaggerated forms of temperament.”

His classification distinguished two basic types: Cycloids (those who want and need social involvement) and Schizoids (those who prefer to remain asocial).

These two broad categories were then each subdivided according to the degree of energy displayed in their condition. The two Cycloid types he described as Melancholics (depressives) and Hypomanics (excitable). The Schizoids he named Hyperesthetic (oversensitive) and Anesthetic (insensitive).

Jung was a Swiss psychologist and the founder of Analytical psychology, the aim of which is wholeness through the integration of unconscious forces and motivations.

Jung’s theory of personality types is entirely distinct from the temperament stream. It is described in depth in his 1921 book, Psychological Types, the name revealing that his framework focussed on mental processes, rather than on values, world views, or physiology (as Temperament does). In Jung’s scheme, the starting place in distinguishing between individuals was that of Extraversion and Introversion. In Jung’s terms, Extraverts are those who are oriented outward towards “the object.” Introverts are oriented inward, away from the object. This fundamental difference in orientation creates two recognizably different sorts of individuals.

However, the Extraversion/Introversion dichotomy was only the starting place in his typology. The heart of it revolved around the different mental functions (cognitive processes) that people use to navigate life. Jung argued that there were two broad categories of mental functions: Perceiving (how we become aware of things) and Judging (how we make decisions about things). Each of these broad categories was then further subdivided. The two forms of Perceiving he described were Sensing and Intuiting. He also identified two forms of Judging, namely, Thinking and Feeling.

Jung also tied Extraversion and Introversion to each of the four functions. In other words, there was an extraverted form and an introverted form of each (e.g., Extraverted Sensing, Introverted Sensing, Extraverted Intuiting, Introverted Intuiting, etc.). This resulted in a total of eight mental functions that people used to manoeuvre through life. Jung believed that everyone relied primarily on one of these eight cognitive processes – so much so, that their personality type was largely defined by it. Thus his book Psychological Types describes eight distinct types.

While Personality Dimensions® is part of the temperament stream of personality typing, it borrows Jung’s Extraversion/Introversion dichotomy, since one’s natural orientation to either the outer world or one’s inner world has a significant influence on the manner in which individuals express their temperaments.

Fromm, another highly influential American figure in the history of psychology, was one of many in the first half of the 20th century who made a sharp distinction between temperament and character. For most of these thinkers, temperament focussed on emotional dispositions; character was concerned with one’s ethics and morals. Temperament was innate; character was developed.

Thus, in his book, Man For Himself, Fromm stated,

“Temperament refers to the mode of reaction and is constitutional and not changeable; character is essentially formed by a person’s experiences, especially of those in early life, and changeable, to some extent, by insights and new kinds of experiences.”

Fromm accepted pre-psychological era theories for categorizing people into four groups as described since the time of Avicenna and even used the terms choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic as labels for them. He also accepted the characteristics that had come to be associated with them by the time of Immanuel Kant.

“The sanguine and choleric temperaments are modes of reaction which are characterized by easy excitability and quick change of interest, the interests being feeble in the former and intense in the latter. The phlegmatic and melancholic temperaments, on the contrary, are characterized by persistent but slow excitability of interest, the interest in the phlegmatic being feeble, and in the melancholic, intense.”

In Fromm’s thinking, temperament influenced the way one expressed one’s character, but did not determine it.

Instead, Fromm posited that there were six dominant character orientations that had developed in modern society. Five of these he saw as pathological, these being termed: receptive, exploitative, hoarding, marketing, and necrophilous. The one positive character orientation he describes is one he termed “productive.” While these orientations are not, in theory, unchangeable, Fromm did believe that once one’s character was set (generally by the end of childhood), it was very difficult to change. Hence his term “orientations” to describe these character patterns.

Direct Contributors to the Development of Personality Dimensions®

During the early years of psychology as a social science, numerous individuals in Europe and in North America discussed innate predispositions. Classifications of temperament varied widely, but all agreed that individuals possessed innate, biologically-based psychological inclinations. The following is a brief account of several of the key figures leading up to the development of Personality Dimensions®.

Keirsey completed his masters and doctoral degrees in psychology at Claremont Graduate School in the late 1940s. Through his research, he became intrigued with what he perceived to be a long lineage of the idea that human personality could be categorized into one of four types.

Drawing upon the work of many of the individuals discussed above, Keirsey’s genius was to formulate a comprehensive framework for understanding four distinct temperament patterns. In particular, Keirsey cites Eric Adickes, Ernst Kretschmer, Eduard Spranger, and Eric Fromm as inspirations.


Keirsey continued to refine this theory in the 1950s and 60s while working as an educational psychologist. In the early 1970s he introduced this theory as an educational curriculum at California State University, where he taught in the department of counselling. In 1978 he and his coauthor, Marilyn Bates, published the book Please Understand Me, which introduced temperament theory to a much wider audience. The book also contained the Keirsey Temperament Sorter®, a self-report instrument designed to help people discover their temperament. A second greatly expanded edition of the book was published in 1998, as Please Understand Me II.


Keirsey’s book described in depth the nature of each of the four temperaments, using the names Artisans, Guardians, Rationals, and Idealists. His comprehensive framework described for each temperament their natural talents, interests, self-concepts, values and behavioural orientations.

In this work, Keirsey also described a correlation between the four temperaments and the work of Myers and Briggs; he found that certain types that were described by Isabel Myers corresponded very well to the four temperaments. Using the letter descriptors from the MBTI, the correlations were as follows:

  • Artisans correlated with SP
  • Guardians correlated with SJ
  • Rationals correlated with NT
  • Idealists correlated with NF

So, while the two typologies are distinct in their basis for exploring personality types, Keirsey did find a correlation between them.

In 1978, Lowry, an educator, discovered David Keirsey’s work and immediately recognized its potential and value for his students. He was also a lover of live theatre and wanted to bring Keirsey’s work to his students in a lively and entertaining format that would be fun to learn. Recognizing the value Keirsey’s work could have for individuals’ lives, careers, and relationships, Lowry decided to create a format through which his students, and people in general, could discover their temperament and learn about human differences in an entertaining, interactive manner. That was the origin of True Colors®


Lowry replaced the more abstract names Keirsey and his predecessors had used for the temperaments, and instead designated each of the four temperaments with a highly visual and easily remembered colour. (Orange=Artisan; Gold=Guardian; Green=Rational; and Blue=Idealist).

Lowry simplified the language that Keirsey had used for his descriptions of the four temperaments and created a simple self discovery process for people to use to determine their own temperament. His delivery method was designed to be both educational and entertaining and he coined the term “edu-tainment.”

Berens completed her PhD studying under David Keirsey. She founded the Temperament Research Institute in 1988 (renamed Interstrength Associates in 2005) in order to further refine, extend, and disseminate Keirsey’s temperament theory.

Her book, Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Temperament contains her description of temperament theory and her Temperament Targets played a large role in the development of Personality Dimensions®. Berens’ Temperament Targets provided three key pieces of information. First, they offer a wealth of detail about the four temperaments in a very concise manner. Second, they demonstrate the interrelationship of the core needs, values, talents, and characteristic behaviours of each temperament. Third, they allow for easy comparison of particular attributes between the four temperaments (e.g., each temperament’s preferred type of relationships, or the natural time orientation for each, or the preferred manner of thinking each uses).

Another very helpful contribution that Berens makes is the distinction between “three selves” that each person possesses:

The Core Selfone’s innate personality pattern
The Developed Selfthose aspects of one’s self that an individual has developed through
The Contextual Selflife experiences that now feel like “second nature”

Explaining the distinctions between these three selves has proven to be very helpful for individuals in the self-discovery process. As an individual reflects on which of the four colours is their best fit, they can ask themselves if a particular characteristic, skill or behaviour they perceive in themselves is something they have learned (developed self) or something they have to do in certain circumstances such as their job (contextual self), or something that is natural to them (their core self).

Personality Dimensions® is a Canadian tool developed by Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc. (CLSR) over a period of five years. Lynda McKim, MSW was hired by Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc. to develop a new temperament assessment tool that would be:

  1. Based on sound, defendable research
  2. User friendly
  3. Appealing to a broad target audience (students to CEOs)
  4. Valid, reliable and concise
  5. Fun and easy to learn, remember and apply

To that end, McKim developed the research instruments described in the next section and, with the analytical expertise of her late husband, Robert McKim, PhD; analyzed the data and worked with suggestions from other trainers across Canada to bring Personality Dimensions® to fruition. This tool and model for understanding ourselves and others leans heavily on the work of the previously mentioned theorists, as well as many independent clinical studies.

Personality Dimensions® uses colours because they make the temperament styles visual. The descriptors were added because they reflect an important aspect of each temperament: Inquiring Green, Organized Gold, Authentic Blue, and Resourceful Orange. Taking the theories of Keirsey and Berens, McKim simplified the language on all components and ensured that the depth of the descriptions for each was equal. Berens’ Temperament Targets were extremely useful in developing the Traits and Characteristics Choices. Her thoughts on “core self,” “developed self,” and “contextual self” and Denise Hughes’, the Publisher of Personality Dimensions and owner of Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc., concept of “colour spectrum” led to McKim’s concept of “Plaid.” The term Plaid was chosen as it is highly concrete and visible. It depicts the point that, although we each have a preferred temperament style, we can and do function, often quite comfortably, from all temperament styles.

Personality Dimensions® is the next level in temperament assessment tools combining the best of what can be drawn from history as well as the input of current studies. Unlike other assessment tools, it also goes beyond temperament to incorporate Jung’s theory on Introversion and Extraversion. Although it is not part of temperament, McKim and CLSR felt it was an important aspect of personality and should be included to provide a deeper understanding of self and others.

A Note on the Revision of the History of Temperament

By Scott Campbell

The earlier version of the Personality Dimensions® manual contained some common misunderstandings of the history and development of temperament theory. In the original manual we assumed the accuracy of earlier temperament experts. For the purposes of this revision, we decided to go back and examine the history in greater detail. In doing so we discovered that certain aspects of the commonly reported history had been misinterpreted and were inaccurate. To the best of our knowledge, this revision corrects those mistakes and presents key components of the actual history.

Individuals familiar with the previous version of this manual will note that Plato, Aristotle, and Paracelsus are no longer included in the list as individuals who spoke of personality type. David Keirsey popularized the idea that each of these individuals referred to four temperaments. In fact, our research indicates that neither Plato nor Aristotle nor Paracelsus referred to four types.

In his work, The Republic, Plato described his vision of the ideal society. In this society he argued there would be three (not four) classes of individuals: (1) Artisans – craftsmen who produced the goods a society would need, (2) Guardians – the military who would protect that society, and (3) Philosopher Kings who would rule the society. Plato never discussed four classes, and his descriptions of the three classes are clearly not related in any way to types of personalities or individuals.

Keirsey felt that Aristotle described four different paths or means to happiness, and relates these four paths to the four temperaments. A thorough review of the literature indicates that this is not the case. Aristotle referred to three common means of pursuing happiness, only one of which he believed led to a true happiness—the philosophical life. It is simply a misreading of his work, The Nichomachean Ethics, to suggest that he was describing four routes to lasting happiness or that a particular type of individual was drawn to a particular means of pursuing happiness. 

Paracelsus was a doctor in the 16th century. It’s been claimed that Paracelsus used four animal spirits as metaphors for the four temperaments. Some temperament theorists include him in their overviews of the stream of individuals who described four patterns of temperaments. For example, they classify Paracelsus’ discussion of gnomes as a reference to what we would call the Gold temperament. Rather, it is clear from his writings that Paracelsus believed there were actual gnomes. They were said to live below the earth and occasionally to interact with humans. The same applies to the other animal spirits to which he refers. In his mind, these were actual beings and had nothing to do with the personalities of humans.

We thank Scott Campbell for his diligence in researching and contributing this section to Chapter One of this revised Manual. Scott is a Personality Dimensions® Master Trainer and the President of Core Factors, a Toronto-based leadership development firm. He is the author of two books, including Quick Guide to the Four Temperaments For Peak Performance: How to Unlock Your Talents To Excel At Work. You can find out more about his work at www.corefactors.com

Republished from the Personality Dimensions Manual, 2nd Edition. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. Copyright 2015, Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc.

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Contact one of our Offices

Canada & World

Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc.

Hong Kong, China, & Macau

Dr. Motivate




Prime Performance

Australia & New Zealand

Jenny Gleeson Coaching & Consulting