Chart of the Four Humours
The theory of the four humours (temperaments) is likely the oldest personality theory in the world. It can be traced back to the 4th century BC Greek physician Hippocrates, who believed that human moods were affected by an excess of four bodily fluids (called humours): blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. In the 2nd century AD, another Greek physician, named Galen, took this idea and made it into a personality theory. He believed that the fluid you had most in excess made you either a sanguine, choleric, melancholy, or phlegmatic.
[E+] Extraverted / [N+] Neurotic
quick reaction + long/intense reaction
bold + task-oriented
active, excitable, aggressive, impulsive
[E+] Extraverted / [N-] Calm
quick reaction + short/mild reaction
bold + relationship-oriented
sociable, talkative, easy-going, carefree
[E-] Introverted / [N+] Neurotic
slow reaction + long/intense reaction
quiet + task-oriented
moody, rigid, pessimistic, quiet
[E-] Introverted / [N-] Calm
slow reaction + short/mild reaction
quiet + relationship-oriented
passive, even-tempered, controlled
Although temperament is not actually based on bodily fluids, it is probably genetic. In the 20th century, Hans Eysenck found that the four humours matched roughly to the four ways in which the traits Extraversion and Neuroticism can be combined (as shown to the right).
There are however some differences in how people distinguish the Cholerics and Melancholics from the Saguines and Phlegmatics. Some see the distinction mostly in terms of reactions (long & intense vs short & mild) and others see it primarily in terms of task-orientation vs relationship-orientation.
In fact, some of those in the latter camp actually replace the phlegmatic quadrant with a new, fifth temperament called the Supine, and move the Phlegmatic to the center as a neutral, ambiverted temperament.
Correlations with Myers-Briggs & Keirsey Temperaments
Many have attempted to correlate the four humours with the Myers-Briggs personality types and the related Keirsey temperaments. In my opinion, it is impossible to make a direct comparison and here's why:
As already mentioned, the four humours are most likely based on comparing the two traits of Extraversion and Neuroticism (see The 'Big 5'). Since the Myers-Briggs doesn't measure Neuroticism, one cannot go any further than to say that Cholerics and Sanguines are probably E's and Melancholics and Phlegmatics are probably I's.
Even more difficult is mapping the four humours to the four Keirsey temperaments. To use Big 5 terminology (and their loose Myers-Briggs correlates): whereas the four humours are based on comparing Extraversion (E-I) and Neuroticism, the Keirsey temperaments are based on a comparison of Openness (S-N) with either Conscientiousness (J-P) or Agreeableness (T-F). Therefore there should be no correlation at all. If anything, you should be able to find all four humours in each Keirsey temperament and all four Keirsey temperaments in each of the humours.
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