The Four Humors – The Ancient Origins Of Personality Testing

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four temperaments

Personality Tests.  Who doesn't love taking them?  Unless you're a cyborg, or a brick wall, you probably have some kind of interest in learning about yourself, including your strengths, weaknesses and character traits.  But did you know that many of the best loved modern day personality tests were greatly influenced by one bizarre theory which proposed that our personalities are formed by our body fluids?

Known, in our present day, as The Four Humors, or Four Temperaments, this psychological theory influenced everything from the creation of the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator test, to the Keirsey Temperament Sorter popularly used today.

If you're a curious and inquisitive personality test enthusiast, or are even simply interested in discovering more about bile, phlegm and blood (I'll explain later), and how the ancient Greeks and Romans attributed them to character, read on.

Also, in the following weeks, Sol and I will be posting a variety of The Four Humors personality tests.  So, look out!

Do I Have Yellow Bile, Black Bile, Blood Or Phlegm?

Interesting question, is it not?  The Greek physician Hippocrates thought so, when he purposed that our temperaments were directly influenced by our bodily fluids (hence the title).

Incorporating his biological theory of personality into his medicinal practices, Hippocrates proposed that our bodily fluids contained four distinct humors, that when balanced, produced perfect health, and when unbalanced, produced diseases and disabilities in our bodies.

Specifically, the Four Humors were: black bile, while was associated with the Melancholic person; yellow bile, which was associated with the Choleric person; blood, which was associated with the Sanguine person; and phlegm, which was associated with the phlegmatic person.  Interestingly this theory was later adopted and adapted by Western European and Islamic medicine, as can be seen in Avicenna's Unani medicine.

Later, the Four Humors theory of temperament was discredited, but was expanded upon by researcher and psychologist David Keirsey in his Temperament Sorter.

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The Four Humors

There's a certain thrill present in discovering what "type of person" we are.  Understanding our personality types aides us in our Involutionary journey of self-discovery.  So, what season, element and organ are you?  What is the ancient analysis of your personality?  Find out below.


The Choleric Temperament

The Choleric humor is said to be the "leader temperament".  Confident, overbearing and passionate, the Choleric person is full of bursting energy and ambition.  Cholerics are most commonly extroverted, although a certain minority can be introverted, but it's less common.  The Choleric person is strong willed, dominant and has a quick temper.

Humor:  Yellow bile.choleric temperament

Organ:  Spleen.

Season:  Summer.

Element:  Fire.

Modern Personality Type:  Idealist.

Here is the Choleric Personality test.


The Sanguine Temperament

Sociable, charismatic and stimulation seeking, the Sanguine person is heavily people-orientated and infectiously optimistic about life.  These are the "happy go lucky" people we often have the pleasure of meeting in our lives.  Although the Sanguine never lacks friends, they tend to be disorganized, frivolous and impulsive.

Humor:  Blood.sanguine temperament

Organ:  Liver.

Season:  Spring.

Element:  Air.

Modern Personality Type:  Artisan.

Here is the Sanguine Personality Test.


The Melancholic Temperament

Thoughtful, introspective and reserved, Melancholics are often the quiet idealists of the bunch.  In essence, they crave time alone and are serious, intense and moody, as well as sensitive, perfectionistic and careful in decision making.  The Melancholic is the "brooder" of the bunch.

Humor:  Black bile.melancholic temperament

Organ:  Gall bladder.

Season:  Autumn.

Element:  Earth.

Modern Personality Type:  Guardian.

Here is the Melancholic Personality Test.


The Phlegmatic Temperament

We all tend to have those quiet, relaxed and stable people in our lives.  These are the Phlegmatic people.  The best word to define the Phlegmatic person is "consistent" because they are loyal friends, loyal  colleagues, and loyal lovers.  However, the Phlegmatic person is prone to passive-aggression and even laziness.  Essentially, they are the meek, submissive, and trustworthy "nice guys" and "good girls" of the world.

Humor:  Phlegm.phlegmatic temperament

Organ:  Brain/lungs.

Season:  Winter.

Element:  Water.

Modern Personality Type:  Rational.


Of course, most of us tend to be a mixture of the Four Humors, but usually one temperament tends to stand out over the others.  Please feel free to share what Hippocratic humor you are below.  Also, watch out for the incoming Four Humor tests in the next coming weeks!

Photo by: Russ Matthews

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  1. Tawni Winns says

    I took the melancholic test and got a 79% but the other 21% of me has got to be phlegmatic because I’m always trying to relax and I can be quite lazy.

    • says

      The melancholic and phlegmatic temperaments are predominantly introverted, so it wouldn´t be a surprise. Thanks for taking the tests :)

  2. Iqbal Halim says

    Hey Luna! i’ve taken your test. i took 3 test and the result are:
    From the sanguine test: 49%, Melancholic test: 84% (of course i am) and Choleric test: 52%.
    What can you tell me? haha :))

    And i just realize that some part of me have choleric personality, like I’d like to make my own mind up rather to have people do it for me.
    This is really helping me to identify myself.
    Feel much better now. Terima Kasih (it means thank you!) haha

    • says

      Iqbal, thanks for taking the tests! It’s exciting to learn about the different dimensions of ourselves, and in your case you’ve come to see that you have a independent-minded streak, something that you can be proud of!
      All the best ~L

  3. hferiante . says

    I find myself as a mix of The Phlegmatic Temperament and The Melancholic Temperament for the most part. I can be a charismatic leader and I am known for my optimism in problem solving but I see these as more learned behavior than natural states of being. I find that many of what I thought were natural traits seemed to dissolve or breakdown when I am in challenging situations that drain me (like relationships) so that when life is at its worst, I am at my best but never in a way that is what I would expect from my day to day behavior (to the surprise of many who have been there with me) The journey to strip back and unlearn what I have been taught to be makes the results of these tests a constant flux.

    • says

      Thanks for reading hferiante. Fascinating isn’t it, how we all have this well-formed idea of ourselves, and that when the time comes for us to be challenged, we find out what we’re really made of, and thus who we really are inside. I guess that’s why the old cliché tells us to “get out of our comfort zones”, so that we can discover what we’re like deep down. It’s a thrilling, yet extremely daunting ride stripping back and challenging everything that we have been taught – it’s a path that I’m on myself. Thank you for your comment :).

  4. Iqbal Halim says

    actually, i’m kinda confused with this hehe
    but i’m seeking for the test. hope it will be soon. :)