Keirsey Temperament Theory

An outline of the author's definitive book on Personality
by Paul D. Gurney

(visit the author's website; author's copyright and ownership honored fully.)

Human beings come in 4 basic patterns. This has been recognized for at least 2,000 years. e.g. in 450 b.c. Hippocrates described four dispositions: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine.

Learn about the 4 underlying forms of personality, as evidenced by how people use tools and words, or what we say and what we do.

David Keirsey's work improves upon Myers-Briggs types (who drew from Carl Jung). This outline is derived from my readings of his book Please Understand Me II. (highly recommended!). Keirsey's editor has also written People Patterns, which provides more popular examples. And Linda V. Berens wrote: Understanding Yourself and Others®: An Introduction to Temperament-2.0.

To Use the Matrix: First, determine how you use words: concrete or abstract; then how you use "tools": cooperative or utilitarian. The square you're in will give you a general idea of your Temperament. The types within are explained below under "Characteristics..."

You could also take their Sorter assessment.

Note: percentages shown are the frequency of types in the USA.

Word usage: Abstract
Say what's possible

Word usage: Concrete
Say what is

Tool usage: Cooperative
Do what's right

NF – Idealists

Mentors Advocates
Teacher (ENFJ)
Counselor (INFJ)
Champion (ENFP) 3%
Healer (INFP) 1%

SJ – Guardians

Conservators Administrators
Provider (ESFJ) 10%
Protector (ISFJ)
Supervisor (ESTJ) 10%
Inspector (ISTJ)

Tool usage: Utilitarian
Do what works

NT – Rationals

Coordinators Engineers
Fieldmarshal (ENTJ)
Mastermind (INTJ) 1%
Inventor (ENTP) 2%
Architect (INTP) 1%

SP – Artisans

Entertainers Operators
Performer (ESFP) 10%
Composer (ISFP) 10%
Promoter (ESTP) 10%
Crafter (ISTP) 10%

16 Characteristics of Personality
These letters represent 16 characteristics of personality, like the MBTI system.
MBTI described Function Types, while Keirsey expressed these as Intelligence Types.

E = Expressive
talkative and sociable
I = Reserved
quiet and private
N = Introspective
abstract world of ideas
S = Observant
observe what is present
T = Tough-minded
the head rules the heart; clarity and firmness
F = Friendly-minded
the heart rules the head; compassion and consideration
J = Scheduling
judicious about schedules, closure; make up mind quickly
P = Probing
flexible schedules; perceptive of opportunities

Intelligence: Diplomatic
Interests: humanities, moral, personnel
the personal growth temperament
enthusiastic, romantic, soulful, ethical, intuitive

The Idealist's core needs are for the meaning and significance that come from having a sense of purpose and working toward some greater good. Idealists need to have a sense of unique identity. They value unity, self-actualization, and authenticity. Idealists prefer cooperative interactions with a focus on ethics and morality. Idealists tend to be gifted at unifying diverse peoples and helping individuals realize their potential. They build bridges between people through empathy and clarification of deeper issues.

iNtuitive and Fervent

Intelligence: Logistical
Interests: commerce, morality, materiel
the cornerstone temperament
helpful, responsible, traditional, law-abiding, steady

The Guardian's core needs are for group membership and responsibility. Guardians need to know they are doing the responsible thing. They value stability, security and a sense of community. They trust hierarchy and authority and may be surprised when others go against these social structures. Guardians know how things have always been done, and so they anticipate where things can go wrong. They have a knack for attending to rules, procedures, and protocol.

Sensible and Judicious

Intelligence: Strategic
Interests: sciences, technology, systems
the technology temperament
theoretical, ingenious, logical, analytical, curious

The Rational's core needs are for mastery of concepts, knowledge, and competence. Rationals want to understand the operating principles of the universe and to learn or even develop theories for everything. They value expertise, logical consistency, concepts and ideas, and seek progress. They abstractly analyze a situation and consider previously un-thought-of possibilities. Research, analysis, searching for patterns, and developing hypotheses are quite likely to be their natural modus operandi.

iNgenious and Theoretical

Intelligence: Tactical
Interests: artcraft, techniques, equipment
the action temperament
daring, impulsive, spontaneous, playful, generous

The Artisan's core needs are to have the freedom to act without hindrance and to see a marked result from action. Artisans highly value aesthetics, whether in nature or art. Their energies are focused on skillful performance, variety, and stimulation. Artisans tend to be gifted at employing the available means to accomplish an end. Their creativity is revealed by the variety of solutions they come up with. They are talented at using tools, whether the tool be language, theories, a paint brush, or a computer.

Spontaneous and Playful

Personality =
Temperament + Character
Inborn, innate inclinations   configuration of habits, actions

Types of Intelligence, and related skills – based on Temperament
Tactical expediting or improvising; troubleshooters, negotiators.
Logistical regulating or supporting, smart handling of goods and services; stabilizers, traditionalists.
Diplomatic developing or mediating; educating, guiding, motivating, conciliating; catalysts.
Strategic arranging or constructing; work with systems, figure out complex means to achieve defined goals; focusing on order or organization, big picture.

Opposites attract, as the axiom goes. But there are many types of opposites. In temperament theory, two people could be opposites in 4 ways, and even all four letters could be different: e.g. an ESFP with an INTJ. Indeed, eight Personality types are completely the "opposite" of the other eight.

So which opposites enrich the relationship (your weakness is my strength) and which erode the bond?

Keirsey wrote that Rationals should marry Idealists, and Guardians should marry Artisans. He believed that concrete thinkers should partner up with concrete thinkers, and abstract thinkers with other abstract thinkers. The rationale seems to be because harmony in a relationship depends on effective communication; if we're not even speaking the same "language", we face a fundamental obstacle. Therefore, the only "opposite" that really threatened long-term viability was one partner being an abstract N thinker and the other a concrete S thinker.

The (E/I), (T/F) AND (P/J) pairings mattered much less, since these sorts of "opposites" could create the "your strength, my weakness" effect which leads to intrapersonal growth.

My personal belief is in line with his, with these questions: Do more pairings in common lead to greater harmony? Or are minor opposites always better for growth? i.e. Two Js can happily adhere to their scheduled routines (who will yield if they don't have the same priorities?). Two Ps can explore possibilities and generate exciting ideas (but will any major course of action get finalized?). Two Es can be the life the of the social group (or will they compete for attention and space?). Two Is can appreciate each other's halo of tranquility (but would they readily make new friends after a move to a new city?). Two Ts can smartly make difficult choices about their aging parents (but will other family members have their feelings ignored?). Two Fs can volunteer their free time helping all of the neighbors (but who will say "No" when personal time needs to be preserved?).



Subjunctive languages seem to indicate the presence of NPs.


Many researchers have correlated specific brain chemistry and neurotransmitters to specific temperament traits. A leading expert in the field is Helen Fisher, affiliated with the Kinsey Institute and Rutgers University. Her research on the brain systems that underlie human personality has identified how 4 specific brain chemicals express personality traits. In 2015 she founded the corporate consultancy NeuroColor.

Hers and other research have found that brain composition directly affects personality. Four chemical systems—dopamine/norepinephrine, testosterone, serotonin, and estrogen/oxytocin—are each linked to particular personality traits.

Her research aligns well with the Keirsey Temperament observations:

Intelligence: Diplomatic
Estrogen/oxytocin = intuitive, imaginative, trusting, empathetic, and contextual long-term thinkers. sensitive to people’s feelings, good verbal and social skills.
Intelligence: Logistical
Serotonin = sociable, more eager to belong. quite traditional in their values and less inclined toward exploration.

Intelligence: Strategic
Testosterone = tough-minded, direct, decisive, skeptical, and assertive. good at rule-based systems—engineering, computers, mechanics, math, and music.

Intelligence: Tactical
Dopamine = curious, creative, spontaneous, energetic, and mentally flexible. risk-takers and seek novelty.


Keirsey and other scientists do not make temperament and astrological connections, because astrology "types" are in no way scientifically valid – but the similarities are interesting.

More interesting patterns: Hippocrates humours; ancient Greek music modes...

Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
etheric body
Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
physical body
Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
astral body
Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
ego and will

Notes 2016 By