William Sheldon's Body Type Theory

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  • 0:03 Who Is William Sheldon?
  • 1:08 Ectomorph
  • 1:41 Endomorph
  • 2:24 Mesomorph
  • 2:59 Why Body Type Theory?
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Have you ever made a snap judgment based on how someone looked? William Sheldon thought body types could define personality. Read on to find out what body type you are and if this theory holds up to today's psychological standards.

Who Is William Sheldon?

We all draw conclusions about people based on how they look. Maybe we think blondes aren't smart or that all skinny men with glasses are scientists. As humans, we tend to label folks, or describe them in a few words based only on a quick glance. We also know this system is flawed; you actually can't judge a book by its cover. Take a look at some famous blondes like biologist Jane Goodall or Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor for evidence!

We now know that we can't judge people based on appearances, but some interesting observations on the subject were made by William Sheldon, an early American psychologist born on November 19, 1898. Sheldon was a watcher of people who took his observations and formed a theory about them. Sheldon published a system of classifying people based on their body types in two documents: The Varieties of Human Physique in 1940 and The Varieties of Temperament in 1942.

Sheldon used his observations to classify body types into three categories: ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. Let's look at them in more depth.


The ectomorph, according to Sheldon, was a thin, introverted person with poor social skills. Think of television's Steve Urkel or Greg from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or even Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. These characters possess the ectomorph body type:

  • narrow hips, shoulders, face, chest
  • skinny arms and legs
  • high forehead

Ectomorphs were thought to have the following personality characteristics:

  • socially awkward
  • self-conscious
  • introverted and private
  • artistic
  • thoughtful


Now reverse your thinking. What personality jumps into your head when you think of Santa Claus? Do you naturally associate a jolly, fun personality with people who are rounder in physique? If so, you're putting Sheldon's body type theory into practice. Santa Claus possesses the endomorph body type, which is a rounder body and more relaxed personality, with the following physical characteristics:

  • pear-shaped or round with wide shoulders and hips
  • high body fat in all areas, including arms and thighs
  • slim ankles and wrists, adding to the 'funny' characteristic

Sheldon thought endomorphic people had personalities that were:

  • outgoing
  • funny
  • loving
  • laid-back
  • attention-seeking

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