Personality, temperament and character are three concepts that are used in psychology to express ways of thinking and feeling, therefore they are related to each other. This great affinity often leads to confusing the meanings of the three terms.
To use the terms of personality, temperament and character wisely, we try to delimit and resize these three words in a simple way. Before discovering the differences, it is necessary to clarify that temperament and character are dimensions of personality. That is, both are essential components of the latter.
Temperament: constitutive basis
When we speak of temperament, we are referring to that innate part of the personality determined by genetic inheritance. It is considered as the biological and instinctive dimension of the personality. In fact, it is the personality factor that shows up first.
In newborns it is already possible to distinguish different types of temperament. Depending on their tendency to feel and show positive or negative emotions and a good or bad mood, children can be considered “easier” or “difficult” in behavioral terms.
Being of genetic origin and the result of the hereditary constitution, the temperament is difficult to transform, manipulate or modify by the consequences. Somehow, this trend will always exist; however, it is no less true that we can count on some resources to enhance or inhibit its manifestation. If we were an iceberg, it would always be part of the submerged area, thus being able to exercise a certain control to modify its manifestation in the external area.
Hippocrates and Galen: the humoral theory
The humoral theory, enunciated by Hippocrates in Ancient Greece, was one of the first theories with which an attempt was made to explain temperament. This doctor considered that a person’s personality and state of health depended on the balance between four substances: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. He called them “bodily humors”.
A few centuries later, Galen of Pergamum, based on the classification of Hippocrates, categorized people according to their temperaments. With them, he distinguished four classes of people:
- The choleric (yellow bile): passionate and energetic person, who gets angry easily.
- The melancholy (black bile): sad individual, easily moved and with a great artistic sensitivity.
- The phlegmatic (phlegm): cold and rational subject.
- The sanguine (blood): cheerful and optimistic person, who expresses affection to others and is confident in himself.
Character: the reflection of our experiences
It is the component of the personality that contains the temperament (hereditary constitution) and the set of educational and relational habits that the person has learned. That is, it is both an innate and an acquired aspect.
It is a consequence of the experiences and social interactions that we will live during our life and from which we will obtain a certain teaching. All these habits affect our temperament and biological predispositions, modulating them, varying them, refining them and, thus, giving shape to our personality. The origin of the character is cultural.
It is less stable than temperament. The character, not being hereditary, does not fully manifest itself in the initial stages of evolutionary development. Rather, it goes through several stages, until it reaches its maximum expression in adolescence. It is, therefore, modifiable and subject to change; for example, through social education. Nowadays, this term is often confused with that of personality, to the point of being used without distinction.
Personality: biology and environment
Personality is the result of the sum of character (temperament and learned habits) and behavior. That is, it encompasses both aspects. It is probably this cohesion that allows us to elucidate more clearly the differences between personality, temperament and character.
Therefore, it cannot be considered only the result of genetic inheritance, but also a consequence of the environmental influences to which the subject is subjected. Personality is an individual hallmark and, therefore, is characteristic of the person. Furthermore, according to numerous studies, it remains stable over time and in situations.
Define the personality
In psychology, personality is the set of emotions, cognitions and behaviors that form a person’s behavioral model. It is the form in which we feel, think or behave. It is a set of processes that interact with each other and regulate themselves, forming a dynamic system. The two most used and accepted definitions currently in psychology are:
- “Personality is the sum total of the organism’s actual or potential patterns of behavior, as determined by heredity and the environment.” Hans Eynseck (1947)
- “Personality consists of the typical behavior patterns (including emotions and thoughts) that characterize the individual’s adaptation to life situations”. Michel (1976)
However, there is no single or clear definition of personality, as it is a complex system and there are numerous definitions as well as authors and currents. Each philosophy or theory has provided its own vision and concept, similar to each other, but different in nuances. Yet, they all have something in common: they consider that there is a certain pattern in the person that leads him to behave in a similar way in similar situations. In this scheme a series of variables would come into play that would give shape.
Depending on the current, these variables receive one name or another: characteristic, cause, parts, traits … The fundamental thing is that the richness of personality psychology lies in all these contributions, theories, studies and research, together with the integration of the them together. Personality, temperament and character are different concepts and, precisely in this difference, we find part of their richness and value to understand and try to predict, through them, our behaviors.