Type Theory in Psychology: Definition & Theorists

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  • 0:04 Understanding Personality
  • 1:04 Type Theory Ancient History
  • 2:43 Type Theory Modern Theories
  • 5:31 Issues With Type Theory
  • 6:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

Type theory in psychology has to do with personality and how it is constructed in each individual. This lesson defines type theory and then looks at the different theories that have been developed from ancient times to the present.

Understanding Personality

Where does personality come from? Some theorists would say that is an individual's reaction to their environment; others would lean on some hereditary characteristic theory in which the mother, father, and relatives going back to Adam (as in Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden) are to blame. No matter what theory of genesis an individual ascribes to, though, the greater interest to psychologists is how to distinguish between personalities.

Without a doubt, every person has a distinct personality. That cannot be debated. The argument is how different personalities can be distinguished. Scientists have come up with two basic means of codifying personality: by trait or by type. Personality traits are broad categories that are enduring, stable, and can be observed. Personality types are groups of traits that are thought to always occur together. Type theory, then, is the belief that an individual's personality can be quantified into a few unique categories. It's a theory that has been around a long time and continues to have a great many followers today.

Type Theory Ancient History

Type theory places people into categories. Due to answers given to the questions on an instrument, you are given a 'type': a box into which you neatly fit.

The ancient Greeks were among the first to determine personality in this manner. Hippocrates and, later, Galen, broke personalities into types that they called the four humors.

  • Sanguine: in modern language, the optimistic personality
  • Choleric: the angry, moody or irritable type
  • Melancholic: the depressed type
  • Phlegmatic: a calm personality

Each of these categories was also associated with a bodily fluid (respectively: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm). The type was thought to represent the type of fluid most predominant in the individual. The actual personality type was determined by the percentage of each fluid the person contained. For example, an individual may be mostly sanguine, but also somewhat melancholy and phlegmatic. Of course, this was all based on philosophy; neither Hippocrates nor Galen actually opened anyone up to measure the quantities of these supposed fluids.

In ancient Indian culture, the Charaka Samhita is a text outlining Ayurveda, which is Hindu research and beliefs regarding holistic healing. The text is thought to be more than three thousand years old. The Charaka Samhita discusses personality types in relation to natural energies and lists them as vata (space/air), pitta (fire/water), and kapha (water/earth). Every person is said to contain some measure of all these elements, and that distribution determines a person's overall, unique personality.

Type Theory Modern Theories

Let's take a closer look at some of the type theories that exist and are examined today.

1. Body type theory

Many different theorists believed that body type determined personality. Two such theorists, William Sheldon and Ernst Kretschmer, each came up with three types:

  • Endomorph (per Sheldon)/pyknic (per Kretschmer) - heavy and lethargic
  • Mesomorph/athletic - fit and aggressive
  • Ectomorph/asthenic - thin and creative

These have never been accepted by the scientific community, but this kind of theory demonstrates how typology is often developed. The theorist associates the personality type with something more tangible, such as a bodily fluid or physical characteristics.

2. Type A/Type B theory

Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman were two cardiologists who took personality typology from the ancient four down to two. They were the originators of the Type A/Type B theory of personality. Type A personality individuals are driven, organized, and impatient. They're also much more likely to succumb to heart attack. Those with a Type B personality, in contrast, live a much more stress-free, passive life.

3. Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory

Carl Jung, a student of Sigmund Freud (a psychoanalyst who, like Jung, was known for work concerning dreams), suggested eight personality types:

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