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Temperament: Answer to question HOW

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This essay opens the term temperament and personality to understand the difference between them and wake thoughts about own temperamental features and how they affect behaviour and actions. Also, this essay can cause a discussion about which of own natural behavioural matters might be based on genetics and which of them are developed in the connection of atmosphere. 

What is temperament?

Temperament means an individualised behavioural style or way of reacting to stimulus. It is a relatively permanent feature throughout life with different ages and situations and based on biological matters. Those biological, and genetic matters are based on the reactivity of the central nervous system as well as the metabolism of brains. That means that every individual has a distinctive, natural way of behaving and reacting in a different situation. Those natural features make a human being and every individual unique. (Keltikangas-Järvinen 2011, 9-10%, Keltinkangas-Järvinen 2022, 139.)

According to Keltikangas-Järvinen (2011), temperament is the base of a human being, and personality develops from temperament. So, temperament is like the building factor of human beings in the first beginning. Later parenting, raising, environment, culture and community modify those factors to develop a personality. (Keltikangas-Järvinen 2011, 9%.) 

The difference between temperament and personality is that temperamental features appear very early before the environment has had time to even affect to person. In turn, personality develops from the effect of the environment and community. However, that cannot be said that the environment would have any effect on temperance at any point. (Keltikangas-Järvinen 2011, 9%.)

What are temperamental features?

Temperament and personality are mixed easily and, commonly, that temperament is used by meaning someone has a strong way of behaving. 

Temperament, as Keltikangas-Järvinen (2011) points out, is a way of reacting and behaving. When talking about temperament, there can be answers to the question of HOW. How a person and individual is acting and behaving in a particular situation. So, for other people, it is easy to see a person’s temperamental attributes because they are visible in everything. 

According to Keltikangas-Järvinen (2011), when other people are describing someone, what kind of person someone is, many times people use temperamental features. Those descriptions could be, for example:









lack of concentration

Keltikangas-Järvinen (2011, 10%) points out that all the attributes in the list above are temperamental matters. Take out from the list and point of Keltikangas it is visible that in daily basics and spoken language, temperament and personality are mixed and used in the wrong way. When describing that someone is temperamental or has a temper can be meant that person is effervescent. It is good to remember that temperament is a quality that everyone has. 

So, temperament is answering HOW an individual is behaving, but it is not answering the questions like what kind of person is or why they are behaving in a certain way. For example, temperament is not concerning motivational matters or values developed in connection with other people, cultures and atmospheres. 

Keltikangas-Järvinen (2011, 11%) points out that it is crucial to understand that there isn’t good or bad temperament. People can ask what is the perfect temperament but according to Keltikangas-Järvinen, it is impossible to say and actually, it does not matter. She says that temperament is always in connection to every particular situation and what matters is that does that behavioural model fits that situation. For example, reacting strongly and fast to changes can be an important way to survive in a crisis but in calm daily life in the office, it can be seen as a lack of concentration. 

Description of personality in short

For clarifying the difference between temperament and personality is clever to open one of the theories of personality. That theory is created by Lewis Goldberg and it is called the “Big five”. According to Lehto (2019), in Goldberg’s Big Five theory, five personality factors are sincerity, conscientiousness, extroversion, amicableness and neuroticism. (Lehto 2019). Thinking of these factors, personality is more invisible matter and qualities of an individual. So, personality answers more to questions of WHAT and WHY they are doing something they do. For example, taking risks, seeking new challenges, the tendency to perfectionism, avoiding conflicts, showing joyfulness and happiness or the tendency to melancholy is based on personality factors. 

Temperament according to Thomas and Chess

Keltkangas-Järvinen (2011, 13-17%) opens the theory of Thomas and Chess about temperament. According to their theory, temperament is the way of behaving and it is divided into nine different temperamental factors:

1. Activity (the level of activation)

Temperamental activity means physical activity and basically how much a person is on move during the day rather than sitting down and being stable. For example, when waking up, is a person already standing up even brains are still groggy? 

2. Rhythm (regularity of biological functions)

Rhythm means the level of predictability of physical functions like sleep and hunger. For example, whether is person naturally more morning or evening energised, is about temperament, and it can be seen already at an early age. 

3. Approaching or retreating in new situations

This is a natural, spontaneous way of reacting to new situations and new things: Reactions and attitudes toward new things positive or negative. For example, how does a baby face new people: facing the new person with a smile or turning face to another direction to avoid new people? Even though this approach and retreating is a naturally temperamental way of behaving, it does not mean that person can learn to act differently in the new situation and have a more open way to face, for example, new people.

4. Adaptation

This temperamental feature reflects how the person is adapting to new situations after the first reaction. This feature is also about how flexible a person is. One example of this could be that is it easy for the person to sleep in a new place or are they always saying that they sleep well only at home. 

5. Responsivity state

The responsivity state means how strong a stimulus is needed to awaken the response from the person. For example, how easily a person reacts to noises, lights, smell or temperature changes and how strong it needs to be to cause a reaction. 

6. Intensity of reactions

The reaction’s intensity means how much energy is used for the reaction or response. Reactions are intense if the person shows emotions and moods loudly regardless of joy, anger or disappointment. 

7. Rate of mood

Rate of mood means if the dominant mood of the person is positive or negative and how that person reacts to different things. For example, is the person more in a good mood and happy or is it more natural to be irritated and show annoyance? 

8. Disturbance 

This means how easily focus will be disturbed and moved to other things in the middle of some task. Also, how strong external stimulus is needed to make a person distracted. In spoken language, this is called a lack of concentration or attentiveness. 

9. Duration of attention and persistence

Duration of attention and persistence are closely related together. Duration of attention means naturally how long a person can be focused on the task they are going. Persistence in turn means how long a person continues activity over barriers that are trying to make them quit the work. 


Easy, slowly warming or difficult temperament?

According to Keltikangas-Järvinen’s book (2011, 17%), the theory of Thomas and Chess has inference that their nine temperamental factories are a tendency to cluster into three temperamental types, which are: easy temperament, slowly warming temperament and difficult temperament. 

Easy temperament

Easy temperament is a type in which biological functions are cyclic, reacting to new situations and people is positive and open, the ability to adapt to new situations is high, showing emotions is not intense, the limit of getting provoked is high and mood is mainly positive. 

Slowly warming temperament

There are two features to image slowly warming temperament type: Medium muffled and negative reactions to everything new and slow ability to adapt regardless of the possibility to get used to new things and activation. 

Difficult temperament

Difficult temperament is the opposite type of easy temperament. Biological functions are irregular, adaptation time to new things is long, reactions to everything new are negative, emotions are shown intensively and mood is easily negative or annoyed. 

Keltikangas-Järvinen points out that the theory about these three temperamental types by Thomas and Chess has been criticised for taking a negative focus on temperament. Difficult temperament sounds quite harsh and bad, and it can be caused for example the idea that parent thinks that their children in a difficult child in general. There has been also a suggestion to name difficult temperaments for example energy, strong, active or challenging temperament types. (Keltikangas-Järvinen 2011, 19%.) 


As Keltikangas-Järvinen (2011) points out, theoretical background and research show that temperament and temperamental factors are strongly based on genetics and they seem to be a constant part of personal functions. However, it seems that temperament does not automatically means that a person acts in a certain way since human being in developed in the connection with culture, atmosphere and surrounding community. These also affect how a person is growing and developing, with a strong effect on personality, motivation and behavioural style. So, even though temperament could be something it does not mean that person needs to be behaving through the way of first natural reactions. 

One highlight from the research and Keltikangas-Järvinen’s book is that temperament or temperamental features are not automatically good or bad and some of the features are not better than others. The point is how a certain behavioural model fits the expected operational model. 

The second highlight would be to point out the fact that temperament is automatically told who the human being is and it can not be used as an argument for acting a certain way because it is natural and impossible to change. Human beings can learn to act and behave in every situation in the way they like and create the procedures to respond in the expected and suitable way from the point of view of the environment. 

According to Keltikangas-Järvinen (2011), even though temperament is quite a constant part of human beings, it can be changed for example in consequence of brain injury and a bit also in the connection with the environment. That would be interesting to research more, about what kinds of things can cause the change in temperament. For example, could extreme trauma or long-lasting traumatic life experiences cause a change of natural temperament? 


Wrap up

This essay aimed to provide a theoretical background of temperament and help to understand the difference between temperament and personality. The most important part is to remember that temperament is about how a human being is acting like they do but it does not explain everything about the nature of human beings. Even though temperament is something that is not simple to change human beings can still decide how they behave. 





Lehto, P. 2019. Big Five -malli kuvaa viisi suurta persoonallisuuden piirrettä. Viimeksi päivitetty: 25.9.2019. https://www.evermind.fi/viisi-suurta-persoonallisuuden-piirretta/

Keltikangas-Järvinen, L. 2011. Temperamentti -ihmisen yksilöllisyys. Julkaistu 4.4.2011. BookBeat e-kirja. 

Keltikangas-Järvinen, L. 2022. Temperamentti – mitä se on ja mihin se vaikuttaa? Temperamentti. Numero 2. Lääketieteellinen aikakausikirja Duodecim. 


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