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MBTI: Temperament

Excerpted from Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey 

Copyrighted 1998, all rights reserved

What, we might ask, is this thing called "temperament," and what relation does it have to character and personality? There are two sides to personality, one of which is temperament and the other character. Temperament is a configuration of inclinations, while character is a configuration of habits. Character is disposition, temperament pre-disposition. Thus, for example, foxes are predisposed -- born -- to raid hen houses, beavers to dam up streams, dolphins to affiliate in close-knit schools, and owls to hunt alone in the dark. Each type of creature, unless arrested in its maturation by an unfavorable environment, develops the habit appropriate to its temperament: stealing chickens, building dams, nurturing companions, or hunting at night.

Put another way, our brain is a sort of computer which has temperament for its hardware and character for its software. The hardware is the physical base from which character emerges, placing an identifiable fingerprint on each individual's attitudes and actions. This underlying consistency can be observed from a very early age -- some features earlier than others -- long before individual experience or social context (one's particular software) has had time or occasion to imprint the person. Thus temperament is the inborn form of human nature; character, the emergent form, which develops through the interaction of temperament and environment.

I want to emphasize that temperament, character, and personality are configured, which means that, not only are we predisposed to develop certain attitudes and not others, certain actions and not others, but that these actions and attitudes are unified -- they hang together. Thus, the SPs base their self-image on graceful action, bold spirit, and adaptability to circumstance, these three traits evolving together of necessity. Furthermore, these three traits, developing together as if out of a single seed, preclude the emergence of a self-image based on, say, empathy, benevolence, and authenticity, which are characteristics of the NFs. In the same way, the SJs base their self-image on reliability, service, and respectability, these three traits emerging together as a unified structure of personality. And again, the unfolding of these three traits together weighs against developing a self-image based on ingenuity, autonomy, and willpower, which is characteristic of the NTs. 

Crossing paths with Isabel Myers got me in the habit of typewatching way back in 1956. Myers completed her book The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in 1958 and published it in 1962, though Educational Testing Service had been using her questionnaire, the MBTI, for some years doing personality research in numerous colleges and high schools around the country, and this is where I first encountered her work

I soon found it convenient and useful to partition Myers's sixteen types into four groups, which she herself suggested in saying that all four of what she referred to as the "NFs" were alike in many ways and that all four of the "NTs" were alike in many ways -- although what she called the "STs" seemed to me to have very little in common, just as the "SFs" had little in common. However, four earlier contributors, Adickes, Spranger, Kretschmer, and Fromm, each having written of four types of character, helped me to see that Myers's four "SJs" were very much alike, as were her four "SPs."  Bingo! Typewatching from then on was a lot easier, the four groups -- SPs, SJs, NFs, and NTs -- being light years apart in their attitudes and actions. This, then, is what Myers had to say about the four groups:

Rationals (NT)

  • Fieldmarshal ENTJ
  • Mastermind INTJ
  • Inventor ENTP
  • Architect INTP

Idealists (NF)

  • Teacher ENFJ
  • Counselor INFJ
  • Champion ENFP
  • Healer INFP

Artisans (SP)

  • Promoter ESTP
  • Operator ISTP
  • Performer ESFP
  • Composer ISFP

Guardians (SJ)

  • Supervisor ESTJ
  • Inspector ISTJ
  • Provider ESFJ
  • Protector ISFJ

The SPs

Myers had SPs probing around their immediate surroundings in order to detect and exploit any favorable options that came within reach. Having the freedom to act on the spur of the moment, whenever or wherever an opportunity arises, is very important to SPs. No chance is to be blown, no opening missed, no angle overlooked -- whatever or whoever might turn out to be exciting, pleasurable, or useful is checked out for advantage. Though they may differ in their attitude toward tough-mindedness (T) and friendliness (F) in exploring for options, and though some are socially expressive (E) and some reserved (I), all of them make sure that what they do is practical and effective in getting what they want.

Consistent with this view Myers described SPs as "adaptable," "artistic," and "athletic" -- as very much "aware of reality and never fighting it" -- as "open-minded" and ever "on the lookout for workable compromises" -- as knowing "what's going on around them" and as able "to see the needs of the moment" -- as "storing up useful facts" and having "no use for theories" -- as "easygoing," "tolerant," "unprejudiced," and "persuasive" -- as "gifted with machines and tools" -- as acting "with effortless economy" -- as "sensitive to color, line, and texture"  -- as wanting "first-hand experiences"  and in general "enjoying life."  So SPs, as seen by Myers, are very much like one another and very much different from the other types, the SJs, NFs, and NTs.

The SJs

Myers had SJs, like SPs, observing their close surroundings with a keen eye, but for an entirely different reason, namely that of scheduling their own and others' activities so that needs are met and conduct is kept within bounds. Thus for SJs, everything should be in its proper place, everybody should be doing what they're supposed to, everybody should be getting their just deserts, every action should be closely supervised, all products thoroughly inspected, all legitimate needs promptly met, all approved ventures carefully insured. Though SJs might differ in being tough-minded (T) or friendly (F) in observing their schedules, and though they can be expressive (E) or reserved (I) in social attitude, all of them demand that ways and means of getting things done are proper and acceptable.

And so Myers described the SJs as "conservative" and "stable" -- as "consistent" and "routinized" -- as "sensible," "factual," and "unimpulsive" -- as "patient," "dependable," and "hard-working" -- as "detailed," "painstaking," "persevering," and "thorough." This too is a clear-cut pattern of action and attitude, highly unlike that of the SPs, NFs, and NTs.

The NFs

On the introspective side, Myers had NFs as friendly to the core in dreaming up how to give meaning and wholeness to people's lives. Conflict in those around them is painful for NFs, something they must deal with in a very personal way, and so they care deeply about keeping morale high in their membership groups, and about nurturing the positive self-image of their loved ones. Indeed, while they might differ from each other on how important judging schedules (J) or probing for options (P) is in acting on their friendly feelings, and while their social address can be expressive (E) or reserved (I), all NFs consider it vitally important to have everyone in their circle -- their family, friends, and colleagues -- feeling good about themselves and getting along with each other.

Thus Myers, an INFP herself, saw her fellow NFs as "humane" and "sympathetic" -- as "enthusiastic" and "religious" -- as "creative" and "intuitive" -- and as "insightful" and "subjective." Again this is a distinct picture of attitude and action, showing NFs to be very much like each other and greatly different from SPs, SJs, and NTs.

The NTs

Also on the introspective side, Myers had NTs as tough-minded in figuring out what sort of technology might be useful to solve a given problem. To this end, NTs require themselves to be persistently and consistently rational in their actions. Though they may differ in their preference for judging schedules (J) or probing for options (P) as they tackle problems, and though they can seem expressive (E) or reserved (I) around others, all NTs insist that they have a rationale for everything they do, that whatever they do and say makes sense.

So Myers described the NTs as "analytical" and "systematic" -- as "abstract," "theoretical," and "intellectual" -- as "complex," "competent" and "inventive" -- as "efficient," "exacting" and "independent" -- as "logical" and "technical" -- and as "curious," "scientific," and "research-oriented." Here again is a unique and easily recognizable configuration of character traits, the NTs a breed apart, starkly different from SPs, SJs, and NFs.