Every age has a preferred explanation of the obvious differences amongst people, and many have attributed the differences to physiology – in ancient times to bodily fluids, and more recently, to genes. The subject of a person’s individuality or uniqueness – what is called temperament – is now going through a revival of interest, for three good reasons:

(a) Because of what we now know about our behaviour during personal development;

(b) Because of our varying responses to medical intervention; and

(c) Because the technological advancements with the computer age have enabled better understanding of the bio-chemistry and genetics of the human body.

Importance of temperament

The diagnosis of a person’s temperament is a major pre-requisite for accurate diagnosis and effective therapy when practicing the true philosophy of Unani Tibb. This has been highlighted by Hippocrates when he mentioned:

“It is more important to know what sort of a person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has”

Temperament is a term which describes a person’s physical characteristics (the constitution) plus his or her psychological, emotional, and spiritual attributes. It assesses personality strengths and weaknesses, and includes the predisposition (risk factors) for particular disorders.

The philosophy therefore attaches considerable importance to assessing a patient’s authentic temperament, as it is an important precursor to a therapeutic approach based on his or her uniqueness, and how to restore health by supporting inner healing. In this, there is a marked contrast with the conventional medical system, which focuses almost exclusively on diagnosing, describing and quantifying features of the patient’s presenting disorder, with little attention paid to the patient’s uniqueness or individuality.

The human body is an unbelievably complex biological system, probably beyond our capacity to understand fully. It is based on a vast array of self-regulatory and self-healing mechanisms, operating at the cellular, tissue and organ level, which are under the control of Physis. This maintains the correct structure and temperament for the person, allowing him or her to perform the functions necessary to maintain health and prevent disease. Changes in structure or temperament will affect the body’s functions. These may occur as a result of an interaction with the environment. The philosophy revolves around the art and skill of identifying a person’s individual authentic temperament, combined with the science and practice of serving his or her Physis to reach and maintain their particular ideal state of health

There are four main temperament types:

  • Sanguineous
  • Phlegmatic – sometimes called serous
  • Melancholic – sometimes called atrabilious
  • Bilious – sometimes called choleric

Each of us is a combination of all four personality or temperamental types resulting in a dominance of one with a sub-dominance of another, less of the third and the least amount of the fourth temperamental type. As well as different people being divided into the four temperamental types above, each temperamental type also has a combination of qualities associated with it.

The overall temperament of the human being is Hot & Moist. The reason is that the human body has a temperature of around 37oC and consists of 60% to 70% water. However, in this Hot & Moist category of the human being there are slight differences between each temperamental type. This is obvious – some of us feel hotter or cooler than others, and some of us suffer from dry skin, or sweat less than others. Therefore each temperamental type also has different qualities assigned to it.

  • Sanguinous – the qualities of Hot and Moist
  • Phlegmatic – the qualities of Cold and Moist
  • Bilious – the qualities of Hot and Dry
  • Melancholic – the qualities of Cold and Dry

Factors determining Temperament

Temperament is determined by the following factors:

  1. Maternal food type and consumption,
  2. Date and time of birth, and
  3. The temperaments of the parents

Of the above three factors, the temperaments of the parents, expressed as hereditary factors, have the greatest influence.

Clinically, a person’s temperament can be diagnosed using the following criteria:

  • Frame/body structure (bone structural type, muscle mass and distribution, fat proportion and distribution)
  • Gait, or walking characteristics (stride and pace of an individual’s walk)
  • Features of speech (the clarity of speech, pitch and speed)
  • Skin texture (the feel of a person’s skin – soft, warm, dry, hard)
  • Complexion (pale, reddish, grayish, shiny)
  • Eyes (visible size, tint, prominence, sunken)
  • Personality traits (persuasive, accommodating, dominating, analytical, etc)
  • Emotional traits (cheerful, shy, irritable, anxious etc)
  • Mental activity (enquiring, calm, sharp minded, etc)
  • Climatic preferences (response to climatic conditions – summer, winter, etc)
  • Sleep patterns (required duration, sound/interrupted sleep)
  • Appetite (healthy appetite, low or excessive thirst, etc)
  • Drinks’ temperature (preference to hot or cold beverages)
  • Health problems (inclination to certain illnesses –hypertension, diabetes, asthma, etc)

Shaking the patient’s hand in the usual greeting can also provide valuable clues of the skin texture and the qualities associated with it. It may feel hot or cold, moist or dry.

Remember: Each person is unique. Just as we have a unique fingerprint, so we have a unique temperament

Each person’s ideal temperament is fixed.

In reality, we are all a composite mixture of the four temperament types, with a dominant temperament combined with a subdominant temperament.

Take our temperament analysis quiz and find out your temperament.