These concepts serve to express ways of thinking and feeling, it should not be confused.
In everyday language the terms “personality”, “temperament” and “character” are frequently used interchangeably; However, from Psychology, clear limits have been established between these three concepts, which account for different aspects of the human experience.
In this article we will define what are personality, temperament and character. For this we will do a brief review of the etymology of the terms and the use that has been given to them throughout history, as well as the point of view of scientific psychology with respect to their differences and similarities.
What is temperament?
When we speak of temperament we are referring to the biological and instinctive dimension of the personality, which manifests itself before the rest of the factors. During the life of any person the environmental influences that it receives interact with its temperamental base, giving rise to the traits that will characterize it and differentiate it from the rest.
Temperament is determined by genetic inheritance, which has a very significant influence on the functioning of the nervous and endocrine systems, that is, on the relative influence of different neurotransmitters and hormones. Other innate aspects, such as the level of brain alertness, are also important for personality development.
These individual differences generate variations in different traits and predispositions; for example, hyper-responsiveness of the sympathetic nervous system favors the appearance of feelings of anxiety, while extroverts are characterized by chronically low levels of cortical activation, according to the PEN model described by Hans Eysenck.
Historical evolution of the concept
In Ancient Greece, the famous physician Hippocrates stated that human personality and disease depended on the balance or imbalance between four bodily humors: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood.
In the second century AD, some 500 years later, Galen of Pergamum created a temperamental typology that classified people according to the prevailing mood. In the choleric type, yellow bile predominated, in the melancholic type black, in the phlegmatic type, phlegm, and in the sanguine type, blood.
Much later, as early as the 20th century, authors such as Eysenck and Pavlov developed theories of personality based on biology. Like the Hippocrates and Galen models, both used central nervous system stability (Neuroticism-Emotional Stability) and activity (Extraversion-Introversion) as basic differentiating criteria.
Character is the learned component of personality. It appears as a consequence of the experiences we live, which influence our way of being by modulating biological predispositions and tendencies, that is, temperamental ones.
Although there is not such a high degree of agreement regarding the definition of character as in the case of temperament, most proposals highlight the fact that it is derived from social interaction. This means that it depends on the context in which we develop, and therefore has a cultural origin.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the study of character, or characterology, was a predominant trend that would eventually be replaced by the Psychology of Personality; Ultimately, these perspectives were not very different from current models. Among the authors who worked with the concept of character, Ernst Kretschmer and William Stern stand out.
At present, in many cases there is no distinction between these elements, character and personality. Strictly speaking, the first term specifically designates the part of our nature that is determined by the environment, but the difficulty in separating it from temperament causes the definitions of character and personality to overlap frequently.
Personality: the sum of biology and environment
In psychology, the term “personality” is defined as an organization of emotions, cognitions, and behaviors that determine a person’s behavior patterns. Both the biological basis (temperament) and environmental influences (character) are involved in the formation of personality.
Therefore, the most remarkable aspect of personality compared to the concepts of temperament and character is that it encompasses both. Given the difficulties in defining which part of the way of being is given by heredity and which by the environment, this term is more useful than the previous ones on a theoretical and practical level.
From psychology a large number of conceptions of personality have been offered. One of the most influential is that of Gordon Allport, which also highlights the mental and behavioral manifestations and the organizational component, although it adds a factor of dynamism (continuous interaction with the environment) and individual specificity.
Each psychological theory of personality highlights different aspects of the human experience. In addition to Allport’s individualistic theory, among the most important we find that of Eysenck, which focuses on biological dimensions, and those of the humanists Rogers and Maslow.
It is also important to mention the situationist models, which bring the concept of personality closer to that of behavior. From these perspectives, it is proposed that human behavior does not depend so much on mental constructs as on environmental influences in a specific situation, or that personality is a behavioral repertoire.
History of the word “personality”
In Ancient Greece the word “person” was used to refer to the masks worn by theater actors. Later, in Rome, it would come to be used as a synonym for “citizen”, designating mainly the social roles of privileged and influential individuals.
Over time, the term “person” began to refer to the individual as being differentiated from their environment. “Personality”, which was derived from this word, has been used since the Middle Ages to describe a series of characteristics that determine the behavioral tendencies of a person.
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