Keirsey’s temperament classifier is a tool used in the field of personal growth and Human Resources. It allows you to know what kind of personality you have, and to relate it to a useful role in your daily life.

This questionnaire is interesting because it starts from the ancestral idea of temperament, already described by the classical Greeks, although reformulated from a modern perspective. Let’s take a closer look at this interesting and complex model.

Keirsey’s temperament classifier: what is it?

Keirsey’s Temperament Classifier is a model, and at the same time, a questionnaire designed to help people understand themselves. It was developed by the American psychologist David Keirsey , who was inspired by such ancient concepts of temperament as those proposed by Hippocrates and Plato, as well as by more recent ones, such as those of Myers-Higgs and Ernst Kretschmer.

In this model, Keirsey has a somewhat particular view of what temperament would be. Although traditionally temperament is seen as a style of personality, relating it to the emotional reaction that a subject can have to face different types of events, Keirsey’s conception also includes aspects related to intelligence and preferences , something that can be related to the dimension of openness to experience of the five-factor model.

The questionnaire used consists of 70 questions, each with two answer options in which the person’s preferences are measured. Although it can be related to the concept of intelligence, it does not measure it, nor does it measure how well we are given specific skills.

Upon completion, the subject who has done so will have a feedback on what his most accomplished behaviors are . These behaviours allow us to know what we are like, as well as to understand in first person how we behave. It also shows what one’s strengths are, not in terms of measured capacities, but what one believes to be the strongest.

This questionnaire is usually used individually, and is very easy to use. Some organizations, such as the United States government, educational institutions and even large corporations such as Coca-Cola or the Bank of America use it to have an elaborate profile of the person who applies for a job offer.

The Keirsey’s rings

Before going into more detail about the temperaments proposed by Keirsey, it is necessary to explain his proposal based on four levels, which he calls rings as if they were the ones in the trunk of a tree. These structure and configure each of the temperaments, roles and variant roles that make them up .

1. Outer ring: abstract and concrete

According to Keirsey, everyone has an understanding of the world that is made up of two processes that are not necessarily mutually exclusive: observation and introspection.

Within the model, observation is understood as the collection of information from the outside, in an objective manner and captured by the senses. For example, when we are looking at a painting, eating an apple or listening to a tune, we would be observing according to the model.

Introspection would be that the subject shares his internal world, his ideas . That is to say, that he creates something that does not exist, in order to shape it in the real world himself.

Some people resort more to the outside world, which is more objective and concrete, while others choose to resort more to their abstraction.

The most concrete people would be those with their feet on the ground , centred on concepts that refer to very concrete elements of their environment, while those who are more abstract would be those with their head in the clouds, centred on general and broad concepts.

2. Second ring: cooperative and pragmatic

The most cooperative people are those who are concerned about the opinions and thoughts of others, taking special interest in their emotions and concerns.

Pragmatic people, on the other hand, focus more on their own thinking , and focus all their efforts on using methods that really work rather than knowing the opinion of others when it comes to taking a certain action.

They are the first and second rings of this tree proposed by Keirsey which make up the four temperaments of the model: rational (pragmatic and abstract), artisans (pragmatic and concrete), idealists (cooperative and abstract) and guardians (cooperative and concrete).

3. Third ring: proactive and reactive

In the third ring a distinction is made between those who communicate with others by informing them of an action to be taken, the proactive, from those who to inform give orders and direct, the reactive. Each of the four temperaments has these two roles. This makes up to 8 main roles in the model.

4. Fourth ring: expressive and attentive

Finally we have the fourth ring, in which we can find the variant roles, which are two for each general role in the model , making a total of sixteen of them.

The expressive role refers to those who choose to express, that is, to show clearly their intentions, while the attentive ones choose to work more covertly.

The 4 temperaments of the model

Once we have seen the structure of the temperaments, we proceed to explain, in more detail, each one of them:

1. Craftsman

From Keirsey’s model, the “artisan” temperament is defined as that of a person who tends to adapt to the situation and is directed towards carrying out a concrete action . They are pragmatic and concrete. Craftsmen require constant stimulation, and wish to improve their abilities to become virtuous in what they like. They want to stand out for what they like to do.

They tend to be good at working with their hands, as well as having good mental agility to adapt to changing environments and situations. They are good at problem solving.

The proactive artisan role is that of the operators, whose most outstanding skill is exploration , and its two variant roles are the ‘crafters’ or artisans (attentive) and promoters (expressive.)

The reactive artisan role is that of the artists or ‘entertainers’, who are good at improvisation. Their two variant roles would be that of composers (attentive) and that of performers (expressive).

2. Guardian

Their behavior is organized rather than intuitive, and they seek security . They are cooperative and concrete. They feel a great need to belong to someone, to be linked to another person. Responsibility and duty are extremely important for guardians. They are very good at organizing, checking and are a good source of trust for others. They need to have well organized schedules. Their greatest strength is logistics.

The proactive, proactive guardian role is that of the administrators, who are very good at regulating and organizing. We have within this role the inspectors (attentive) and the supervisors (expressive).

The reactive guardian role is that of conservatives, whose most developed skill is that of giving support to others . From roles within it we have the protectors (attentive) and the providers (expressive).


3. Idealist

Idealists are cooperative and abstract. For them, the most important thing is the meaning of oneself. They seek their personal identity, their growth as individuals . Their most developed natural skill is diplomacy. This temperament is that of people who inspire confidence, who inspire.

From a proactive idealistic role we have the mentors, who are in charge of helping others to develop. Among them would be the counselors (attentive) and the teachers (expressive).

In the reactive idealistic role we have the promoters, who are very good at mediation. Within them we have the healers (attentive) and the champions (expressive).

4. Rational

Rational people are pragmatic and abstract. For them, what is important is knowledge and competence . They want to be good at what they are doing, and they work to achieve mastery of what they would like without the need to receive pressure from others. They are good at strategy, theorising, coordinating projects, developing concepts and are good at engineering.

From a proactive rational role we have the coordinators, who are good at tidying up. Within them we have the masterminds (attentive) and the field marshals or commanders (expressive).

From a reactive role we have the engineers, whose most developed skill is that of building. Inside we have the architects (attentive) and the inventors (expressive).

Bibliographic references:

  • Cattell, R.B., (1947). Confirmation and clarification of primary personality factors. Psychometrika, 12, 197-220.
  • Keirsey, D. (1978). Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence (1st ed.). Prometheus Nemesis Book Co. ISBN 1-885705-02-6.