AskDefine | Define temperament

Dictionary Definition



1 your usual mood; "he has a happy disposition" [syn: disposition]
2 excessive emotionalism or irritability and excitability (especially when displayed openly)
3 an adjustment of the intervals (as in tuning a keyboard instrument) so that the scale can be used to play in different keys

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a person's normal manner of thinking, behaving or reacting
  2. a tendency to become irritable or angry
  3. the altering of certain intervals from their correct values in order to improve the moving from key to key


a person's normal manner of thinking, behaving or reacting
a tendency to become irritable or angry
  • Spanish: temperamento
the altering of certain intervals from their correct values in order to improve the moving from key to key

Extensive Definition

In psychology, temperament is the innate aspect of an individual's personality, such as introversion or extroversion.
Temperament is defined as that part of the personality which is genetically based. Along with character, and those aspects acquired through learning, the two together are said to constitute personality.
Historically the concept was part of the theory of the humours, which had corresponding temperaments. It played an important part in premodern psychology, and was important to philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Hermann Lotze.
More recently, with the emphasis on the biological basis of personality, the relationship between temperament and character has been examined with renewed interest.
It has also inspired artists like Carl Nielsen, and Hindemith, whose music is featured in George Balanchine's ballet "The Four Temperaments." See also Keirsey Temperament Sorter.

Infants, children and adults

Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, Herbert G. Birch, Margaret Hertzig and Sam Korn began the classic New York Longitudinal study in the early 1950s regarding infant temperament. The study focused on how temperamental qualities influence adjustment throughout life. Chess, Thomas et al. rated young infants on nine temperament characteristics which by itself, or with connection to another affects how well a child fits in at school, with their friends, and at home. Behaviors for each one of these traits are on a continuum. If a child leans towards the high or low end of the scale, while this is typical, it could be a cause for concern. The specific behaviors are: activity level, regularity of sleeping and eating patterns, initial reaction, adaptability, intensity of emotion, mood, distractibility, persistence and attention span, and sensory sensitivity.
Kagan and his colleagues have concentrated empirical research on a temperamental category they term "reactivity." Four-month-olds who are classed as high reactive cry frequently and are motorically active. Low reactive infants cried and moved much less. Kagan also used two additional classifications, one for infants who were inactive but cried frequently (distressed) and one for those who showed vigorous activity but little crying (aroused). Followed to age 14-17 years, these groups of children showed differing outcomes, including some differences in central nervous system activity. Teenagers who had been classes as high reactives when they were babies were more likely to be "subdued in unfamiliar situations, to report a dour mood and anxiety over the future, [and] to be more religious"

Nine Temperament Characteristics


level refers to the amount of physical energy in the child. Does the child have to be constantly moving or do they have a relaxing approach? A child who has high energy may have difficulty sitting still in class, where a child with low energy can handle a very structured environment. The former may use his or her gross motor skills more frequently, such as running and jumping. Conversely, a child has a lower activity level may rely more on fine motor skills, such as drawing and putting puzzles together. This trait can also refer to mental activity, such as deep thinking or reading, activities which become more significant as the person matures.


, also known as Rhythmicity refers to the level of predictability in a child’s biological functions such as waking, becoming tired, hunger and bowel movements. Does the child have a routine in their eating and sleeping habits or do they just seem to happen whenever? A child who is predictable will need to eat at 2pm everyday whereas a child who is less predictable will eat at sporadic times throughout the day.

Initial reaction

is also known as Approach or Withdrawal. This refers to how the child responds to new people or environments either positive or negative. Does the child check out people or things in their environment without hesitation or do they shy away? A child who is bold will tend to approach things quickly as if without thinking. Where as a child who is cautious typically prefers to watch for a while before engaging in new experiences.


refers to how long it takes the child to adjust to change. This is different from what was mentioned above because adaptability refers to the long term adjustment made after the child’s first reaction to the new situation. Does the child adjust to the changes in their environment easily or are they resistant to what is happening around them? For a child who adjusts easily they may be quick or it may take no time at all to settle into a new routine. Whereas a child who is resistant may take a long time to adjust to the situation.


refers to the energy level of a positive or negative response. Does the child react intensely to a situation or do they respond in a calm and quiet manner? A child who leans more on the intense side may jump up and down screaming with excitement. Whereas a child who is mild mannered may just smile or show no emotion what-so-ever.


refers to the child’s general tendency towards a happy or unhappy demeanor. All children have a variety of emotions and reactions that are opposite of each other such as cheerful and stormy, happy and unhappy. Each child biologically tends have generally a positive or negative mood. Does the child express a positive or negative outlook? A baby who may smile and coo all the time could be considered a cheerful baby. Whereas a baby who cries or is fussy all the time may be considered a stormy baby.


refers to the child’s tendency to be sidetracked by other things going on around them. Does the child get easily distracted by what is happening in the environment around them or can they concentrate despite the interruptions? A child that is easily distracted notices everything going on around them and has a hard time returning back to the task at hand. Whereas a child that is rarely distracted has the ability to stay focused and completes the task at hand.

Persistence & Attention Span

refers to the child’s ability to stay with a task through frustrations and length of time on the task. Can the child stay with an activity for a long period of time or do they just give up when they become frustrated? A child who is persistent can sit and pull on their sock until the task is complete. Where a child who tends to have a short attention span will just give up when they become frustrated or distracted.


refers to how easily a child is disturbed by changes in their environment. It is also referred to as Sensory Threshold or threshold of responsiveness. Does the child get bothered by external stimuli in their environment such as noises, textures, lights, etc. or do they just seem not to be bothered by them at all and simply ignore them? A child who is sensitive may be distracted by a door slamming and will not be able to maintain focus. Whereas a child who tends to not be sensitive to external noises; they are able to maintain their focus.

"Easy", "Difficult", and "Slow-To-Warm-Up"

Thomas, Chess, Birch, Hertzig and Korn found that many babies could be categorized into one of three groups: easy, difficult, and slow-to-warm-up. (Thomas & Chess 1977). Not all children can be placed in one of these groups. Approximately 65% of children fit one of the patterns. Of the 65%, 40% fit the easy pattern, 10% fell into the difficult pattern, and 15% were slow to warm up. Each category has its own strength and weakness and one is not superior to another.
Thomas, Chess, Birch, Hertzig and Korn showed that Easy babies readily adapt to new experiences, generally display positive moods and emotions and also have normal eating and sleeping patterns. Difficult babies tend to be very emotional, irritable and fussy, and cry a lot. They also tend to have irregular eating and sleeping patterns. Slow-to-warm-up babies have a low activity level, and tend to withdraw from new situations and people. They are slow to adapt to new experiences, but then slowly accepts them after repeated exposure.
Thomas, Chess, Birch, Hertzig and Korn found that these broad patterns of temperamental qualities are remarkably stable through childhood. These traits are also found in children across all cultures.
Thomas and Chess also studied temperament and environment. One sample consisted of white middle class families with high educational status and the other was of Puerto Rican working class families. They found several differences. Among those were:
Parents of middle class children were more likely to report behavior problems before the age of nine and the children had sleep problems. This may be because children start preschool between the ages of three and four. Puerto Rican children under the age of five showed rare signs of sleep problems, however, sleep problems became more common at the age of six.
Middle class parents also placed great stress on the child’s early development, believing that problems in early ages were indicative of later problems in psychological development, whereas Puerto Rican parents felt their children would outgrow any problems.
At the age of nine, the report of new problems dropped for middle class children but they rose in Puerto Rican children, possibly due to the demands of school.

Family Life


Most experts agree that temperament does have a genetic and biological basis, although environmental factors and maturation modify the ways a child's personality is expressed. Differences of temperament or behavior styles among each individual are important in family life. They affect the interactions among family members. While some children can adapt quickly and easily to family routines and get along with siblings, others who are more active or intense may have a difficult time adjusting. The interactions between these children and their parents and/or siblings are among a number of factors that can lead to stress and friction within the family life.
Parents can also differ in temperament. The mix between parents and children also has an effect on family life. The term “Goodness of fit” refers to the match or mismatch between children and other family members. For example, a slow paced parent may be irritated by a highly active child or if both parent and child are highly active and intense it could mean big conflict. This can be useful to parents for figuring out how temperaments affect family relationships. What may appear to be a behavioral problem may actually be a mismatch between the parent’s temperament and their child’s. By taking a closer look at the nine traits that Thomas and Chess revealed from their study, parents can gain a better understanding of their child’s temperament and their own. Parents may also notice that situational factors cause a child's temperament to seem problematic; for example, a child with low rhythmicity can cause difficulties for a family with a highly scheduled life, and a child with a high activity level may be difficult to cope with if the family lives in a crowded apartment upstairs from sensitive neighbors.
Parents can encourage new behaviors in their children, and with enough support a slow-to-warm-up child can become less shy, or a difficult baby can become more easier to handle. More recently infants and children with temperament issues have been called "spirited" to avoid negative connotations of "difficult" and "slow to warm up." Numerous books have been written advising parents how to raise their spirited youngsters.

Understanding for improvment

Understanding a child’s temperament can help reframe how parents interpret children’s behavior and the way parents think about the reasons for behaviors. By parents having access to this knowledge now helps them to guide their child in ways that respect the child’s individual differences. By understanding children’s temperaments and our own helps adults to work with them rather than try to change them. It is an opportunity to anticipate and understand a child’s reaction. It is also important to know that temperament does not excuse a child’s unacceptable behavior, but it does provide direction to how parents can respond to it. Making small and reasonable accommodations to routines can reduce tension. For example a child who is slow paced in the mornings may need an extra half hour to get ready. Knowing who or what may affect the child’s behavior can help to alleviate potential problems. Although children obtain their temperament behaviors innately, a large part that helps determine a childs ability to develop and act in certain ways is determined by the parents. When a parent takes the time to identify and more importantly respond to the temperaments they are faced with in a postitive way it will help them guide their child in trying to figure out the world.
Recognizing the child’s temperament and helping them to understand how it impacts his/her life as well as others is important. It is just as important for parents to recognize their own temperaments. Recognizing each individual’s temperament, will help to prevent and manage problems that may arise from the differences among family members.
Temperament continues into adulthood, and later studies by Chess and Thomas have shown that these characteristics continue to influence behavior and adjustment throughout the life-span.
In addition to the initial clinical studies, academic psychologists have developed an interest in the field and researchers such as Bates, Buss & Plomin, Kagan, and Rothbart have generated large bodies of research in the areas of personality, neuroscience, and behavioral genetics.

Artistic temperament

The tendency for those who are highly artistic to show dramatic swings in emotion. While not solely possessed by artists, it is highly prevalent among artists of all media, including painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, etc. This behavior is often characterized by being highly passionate about subjects of importance to the possessor of this behavior, extremely dedicated to certain goals, often hyper-aware of the presence of others, and at other times seemingly oblivious to the presence of others (which explains the odd, extreme movements some artists may have while performing their art.) It is also accompanied by the full range of all the emotions, often elevated to extremes. There is a theory that this due to the high instance of bipolar disorder in the artistic community, however this is a subject of debate. Also, in some individuals its origin could be due to a self-fulfilling expectation that, "Since I am an artist, I should have an artistic temperament."

Rudolf Steiner and the four temperaments

see also Four humours In his lectures on education, Rudolf Steiner brought a new approach to the four classical temperaments: melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine and choleric. He emphasized their importance in elementary education, as this is a time when the child is strongly affected by his or her nature in this respect. A person's temperament may change, especially in the pre-puberty years, and in any case diminishes in importance as the personality becomes more developed after puberty.
In any case, the temperament is not exclusive; most people combine aspects of all of them. One or two may dominate, however, or be prominent by their absence. In addition, for each temperament Steiner pointed out that there are less and more mature forms: the sullen, self-absorbed melancholic can mature to the sympathetic helper and/or the deep thinker. A person may transform his or her own temperament, as well, either by becoming more mature in what is naturally given or by metamorphosing into a different temperament.

See also


temperament in Bulgarian: Темперамент
temperament in Czech: Temperament
temperament in German: Temperament
temperament in Spanish: Temperamento
temperament in French: Tempérament (psychologie)
temperament in Latvian: Cilvēka temperaments
temperament in Dutch: Temperament
temperament in Japanese: 気質
temperament in Polish: Temperament
temperament in Russian: Темперамент
temperament in Slovak: Temperament
temperament in Serbian: Темперамент
temperament in Finnish: Temperamentti
temperament in Swedish: Temperament
temperament in Ukrainian: Темперамент

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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