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T is for Temperament

Temperament is innate, a direct result of genetics. No, research has not identified the genes responsible for it, but we know it is wired in our DNA. Temperament is the natural way we interact with one another and our environment. Since we examined the overall effect in K is for Keirsey, let’s look at it before it changes with our character and what we learn.

You know from the first few moments of a newborn’s life, there are certain things about the child you cannot deny. The baby will either be excitable or sleep through a civil defense siren. It will coo at strangers or will cloud up and rain on Granny’s parade. This is the rawest sign of temperament. It is not tempered with the concepts of character which will be learned later.

Time Travel

Temperament Theory and Practice ~ Chess & Thomas

During the 1950s, a lot of research into temperament was happening. Keirsey was busy creating kidneys. Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess were busy with children. No, they were not both the parents of a particular child. They were setting out on the New York Longitudinal Study (NYLS), which followed babies through 17 years to study how their temperaments served to predict future behavior and whether or not temperament was diverted by learned character traits.

What the study ultimately revealed was nine specific dimensions on which temperament could be measured, which were set into a classification continuum by Herbert Birch. Together, Thomas and Chess  published NYLS findings in 1968.

1. Trifling or Tedious?

Physical activity is the first trait. This answers the question: Can you sit still? People with a low activity level can survive in the most structured environments (think IRS cubicle farm). High activity level people do better in more physical environments (think professional sports).

2. Timing

Regularity or rhythmicity is the predictability of biological functions. (Think blue light bio-clock.) Are you the kind of person who absolutely needs lunch at 12:00 noon? Are you the one who can sleep any time of the day or night with the same restfulness?

High rhythmicity people have very structured internal clocks (think set your watch by what time they arise in the morning). Those with a lower regularity rating tend to service bodily functions more haphazardly (think has no idea when they will be hungry).

3. Take

Initial reaction shows approach or withdrawal.

Initial reaction is gauged as approach or withdrawal and refers to reactions to new people or environments. Bold people approach new things and people, while timid or cautious people withdraw to observe before bounding into new situations.

4. Transform

Adaptability is the next trait. After the first take, how long does it take to acclimate to a change in surroundings (people or place or condition)? More adaptable people fall right into the new routine after a change. More rigid people take longer to grow comfortable and adept in new situations.

5. Torridity

Australian Temperament Project Report

A person’s intensity is noticeable. How intensely do you react? When something is funny, the more intense person will unabashedly laugh, with included, even seemingly exaggerated, body language gestures. The less intense person may only smile or may not even change expression to show merriment.

6. Tone

One of the only traits to be predominantly one or the other is mood. Mood refers to overall happy or unhappy demeanor. (Think optimist versus pessimist.)

7. Thinking

Distractibility is the tendency to be sidetracked from an activity. Are you one who can stay on task with chaos around you? Or are you one who “Squirrel!”

8. Tenacity

Attention span and persistence are very measurable traits. How long will you stay at a task, even when frustrated?

9. Twig

Sensory sensitivity is the final trait in the mix. Sensory threshold or threshold for responsiveness refers to how easily you are disturbed by environmental changes. Does your train of thought derail at sudden noises, bizarre textures or changes in lighting?

Those with a low threshold are immediately bothered by the air conditioning blowing on them. Those with a high threshold are not upset by the thunder and lightning outside the window.


Stella Chess

Knowing that being too far to one end of the continuum on any one of the nine traits can be cause for alarm (especially in very young children), weighing them all together produces one of three profiles. Children will keep these profiles stable throughout childhood until pre-puberty when character-building (through choosing learned responses) changes the way they express themselves.

Thomas, Chess, Birch, Margaret Hertzig and Sam Korn found 65% of all babies fell into these three categories. The remaining 35% showed significant traits from two categories, with a negligible number showing traits in all three.

Slow to warm up: These babies withdrew from new people and environments and had lower activity levels. Although they accepted new routines, they had lower adaptability. 15% of babies fell into this category.

Alexander Thomas

Difficult: These babies were irregular (bodily functions, especially eating/sleeping), cried more, were irritable and fussy and tended to be very emotional. 10% of babies fell into this category.

Easy: 40% of babies fell into this category. They fell into regular schedules, adapted to environmental change readily and were generally happy with positive moods and emotions.


Although temperament plays a large role in our relationships as children with our parents, caregivers, peers and authority figures, we can adapt to our environment to abandon the intensity of our original traits. However, vestiges of the original traits will still be dormant under our conscious choices to leave them behind or adopt more moderate levels.

Learning to recognize the differences in temperaments is instrumental to easing the pain of parenthood, especially when Child and Parent are of differing or opposite temperaments.

Making small concessions to accommodate temperament can ease or prevent problems arising from the differences. This is exercising parenting psychology.

By knowing our own temperaments, we can better gauge our reactions to the people and events around us.


The New York Longitudinal Study was just one of many long term research projects into temperament around the globe. There are varying other theories which bear both striking similarity and stark contrast to the Thomas-Chess synopsis. Just a few include Mary RothbartRudolf Steiner, Kagan and  John Bates.


Where do you stand on Thomas & Chess’ temperament scales? Can you think of a way to overcome temperament differences between you and (Mate, Child, Co-Worker)? Did you already know temperament began before character?

If you tweet or +1 this post, please use the hashtag #AtoZChallenge!

(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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  1. Which came first, the Temperament studies or Spock and his idiocy? Just curious as it seems that he may have missed this.

    I wonder how adoption, abuse, failure to bond or other factors might change how babies initially behave? Certainly my parents would say very different things about me and my brother as infants.
    valentine logar recently posted..Sunshine DaysMy Profile

    • Red

       /  April 23, 2012

      Unfortunately for many children, the temperament studies were well established by the time Benjamin Spock got around to his abominable books. Apparently, he trusted his own insight far above the empirical data to the contrary.

      All of the things you mention, and a score of others, change the way temperament is presented. The short form: Pavlov’s dog. Babies can be trained to not exhibit natural behavior through the exploitation of both their positive and negative behaviors. Attachment disorders (bonding) are both primary (the baby) and secondary (carer). Both forms will change baby behavior, but will not eradicate the innate temperament. Again, it is a matter of presentation.

      The differences in your parents’ opinions are part of the problem. They were each viewing through their own scale rather than the impersonal, empirical scale. As with all other behaviors, we see what someone does and judge according to our own version of what we believe motivates it. The misconception of observation is pervasive in all arenas, not just parenting.

  2. Bear

     /  April 23, 2012

    I was and still am today a very intense person. I am somewhat of a perfectionist and I do not give up.

  3. Interesting, Red! I would guess this is me, for the most part… maybe…

    1. can sit still for a very long time
    2. prefer a schedule
    3. cautious
    4. not the best with change
    5. not intense unless with very close friends
    6. fairly pessimistic
    7. hard for me to focus with too much going on
    8. can work on a task for a LONG time UNLESS something goes wrong… then I lose all focus
    9. can get distracted by environment

    or… you know… something like that.
    spilledinkguy recently posted..Donut No. 3My Profile

  4. Laurie

     /  April 23, 2012

    I’m confused, that’s nothing new. I put my kid in therapy to teach appropriate behaviors and eliminate inappropriate behaviors. I say I inherited my temper from my parents. (My daughters inherited my smart mouth). I can not remember all the questions, but whether or not I warm up to people depends on them. If something runs across my grave I leave them alone, if not I’ll give them a chance. There are few in the group that qualify as being warmed up to immediately. I believe people interrupt me on purpose just to see if they can make me say something ugly to them, especially after I told them I need to concentrate a few million times BEFORE I started. I can’t stand the thunder that shakes the house or the lightening right at the window but I love the calm immediately before the storm and changes after the storm………….what was the question??

    • Red

       /  April 23, 2012

      The immediate warm up is based on what you already know. That puts you in the more cautious. Yes, you try to therapy out the inappropriate behaviors, but the temperament is beneath what they choose to show you. The best use of therapy is to exploit the good behavior whilst not rewarding the bad. (You know I know good/bad is not appropriate.)

      No doubt there are those who will test your temperament to see if the natural will rise above the character and learned behavior…they are called button pushers. {HUGZ} Red.

      • Laurie

         /  April 24, 2012

        Oh yes, the button pushers…….they would be the reason I attempt to stay home and not have visitors. I do love how they never know when to shut up then seem surprised and act the innocent victim when tempers rise.

        Yes, reinforcement of behaving positively, we get to go to the therapist tomorrow and have a chat about the negative behaviors that appear to worsen when I leave little bit unattended with someone else so I can take care of things. I know little bit knows better, so it has to mean that the adults don’t. Maybe I should put the grown people in therapy instead?

        • Red

           /  April 24, 2012

          Yes. This is the theory of Valium/Xanax. The correct administration is to crush it and liberally spread it over the breakfast cereal of the one causing the prescribed the anxiety 😉

        • Red

           /  April 25, 2012


  5. I fear I maybe a squirrel or have mad cow disease 😯
    Friggin Loon recently posted..One Less TerroristMy Profile

    • Red

       /  April 23, 2012

      ROFL1 I do not think it is all that bad, Loon! Good to see you tonight!

  6. We (psych students) learned that temperament and personality in general were both learned and inherited. My own efforts to observe different people have swayed me to agree with this opinion.

    My own temperament has changed over time.

    I was very easy going in high school and not a lot bothered me, but if it did, we settled things the old fashioned way, in an alley or someplace hidden and afterwards we were all still friends.

    In my early to mid twenties, I sought oblivion and at times allowed my inner rage to surface when I was provoked. (taking a swing at me for bumping you—not a good idea back then, nor was allowing me to catch you breaking into my car.) I didn’t care about the outcome then. I just didn’t care in general.

    In my late twenties and early thirties, I had to suppress the rage until it faded away to nothing. I knew I had to do that in order to have a relationship with someone I needed to be with. I had to let a lot of other things go at the same time.

    I changed my temperament.

    Today (early 50s) my temperament is very different from high school, twenties and thirties, and even my forties. I’d say I am “mellow” and don’t let things get to me. Instead of a physical fight, I try to win with words. The big difference there is, I rarely lost the physical fight; a war of words rarely ends with me the winner.

    MJ Logan recently posted..A MeetingMy Profile

    • Red

       /  April 23, 2012

      I do not see the temperament changed, only the manner in which it is delivered. That same energy which drives the rage drives the competitive nature (which is the temperament). The character is the shift from fists to words. What you learned was prioritizing. You put the need to satisfy the rage behind the need to be with Marg. I think you are mistaking the machine for the fuel. Gasoline burns just as hot in the engine or on the open flame…

  7. I really like this post, Red.
    I warm up to people quickly if they’re intelligent, thoughtful and sensible. I distance myself from, and have little or no patience with, frippery, stupidity, morons, fools, or the wiener-brained know-it-all arrogant. Nothing will stand in the way if I need to get something done. I am not a shirker, I am a worker, and have a powerful, –almost too powerful work ethic. I am intense, creative, inventive and a survivor. I am kind and gentle and always polite. If I am really interested in doing a project I will work non-stop forever on it to the exclusion of almost all else. I despise dishonesty. Frenetic activity bothers me, it does not distract from what I am doing because I am singularly minded, but it is highly, HIGHLY annoying. Common sense is my forte’. I could be considered a genius if I wasn’t so smart.
    May I have a cookie now? Make it two, one for each hand … “:)
    Raymond Alexander Kukkee recently posted..U is for UsefulMy Profile

    • Red

       /  April 23, 2012

      Two cookies is a sign of secondary problem solving. You would fall into the easy category. There are more than enough markers in the middle ground to account for the few sticking points, which are mostly characteristic mechanisms. I like it. Smarty pants. 😉

  8. Hi Red! 🙂

    Hmmm… Not sure where I’d fit in this study, because of my violent and spirit crushing upbringing, I have a lot of baggage.

    I make friends easily, don’t get angry easily, have a generally sweet temperament and have often been a shoulder to cry on for my friends – who have all moved on.

    I have lived, loved and been very happy, helped many and have been bitten for it, but still hold out a helping hand when it’s needed.

    Hmmm… Can’t say where I fit in this test! LoL!!!

    Love and hugs!

    prenin recently posted..Monday – the muse strikes.My Profile

    • Red

       /  April 24, 2012

      That puts your temperament in the Easy category. Remember, baggage is not who you are, but how you deal with your environment. When you need an extra hand, drop one 😉

  9. This is a fine posting for ‘T’ my great friend, and I have also enjoyed reading the comments too 🙂

    Have a lovely evening Red 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

    • Red

       /  April 25, 2012

      I hope your morning has been a good one, Andro. Thank you for stopping by this post.

      • I have found out why that ‘Like’ button is not on
        the postings, well actually it is but it is now above
        the header, obviously WordPress have been playing a game of ‘Hunt the Settings’ again, ah well never mind, I suppose everyone will soon realise that it has been moved to another location, even if it is a nutty idea lol

        Androgoth XXx

        • Red

           /  April 26, 2012

          OK, I will test it when I am by later. From what I gathered last evening, you must have had it turned off after the last update. Silly updates. Never fails, they break something!

          • 🙂 😉 lol
            Yes Every Single Time…
            If it is not broken then why fix it? 🙁 lol

            Androgoth XXx

    Sorry. The Three Terminal Tenacity Throes kicked in 😉
    Great post as always. SIG made the Temping Total yes not Trifling comment -grin
    Miss R recently posted..Murder! Mayhem! Sex! Free Beer!My Profile

    • Red

       /  April 25, 2012

      There have been quite a few forthcoming in this one. Our own version of group 🙂


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