Last Updated on September 10, 2022 by Larious
Psychologist David Keirsey developed a self-report personality assessment called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Please Understand Me, his 1978 novel, introduced it to readers.
Keirsey’s temperament questionnaire classifies respondents as Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, or Rational. There are a total of 16 possible personality types, with each of the four temperaments further broken down into four character types.
This page provides background on the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, defines the four temperaments it identifies, and evaluates the reliability of the test itself.
Table of Contents
The Origins of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter
During his time as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific theater of World War II, Keirsey developed an early curiosity in the fields of psychology and personality type.
In his undergraduate and graduate studies, he got interested in the four temperament patterns observed in the writings of ancient thinkers like Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Plato.
Please Understand Me introduced the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, and his subsequent books—including “Please Understand Me II,” published in 1998—developed and refined the instrument.
Keirsey chose the term “temperament” rather than “personality” for the name of his questionnaire because, in his view, temperament is made up of observable personality traits like a person’s typical mode of communication, the methods they typically use to achieve their goals, and their innate skills, interests, and values.
The four temperaments emerge from a matrix constructed from the reciprocal relationships between temperament’s two main components, namely, communication and action.
The ability to communicate is fundamental to being human. Keirsey, however, insisted that there are only two major categories of conversation and that while everyone engages in both, there is a clear preference for one over the other. Learn more about other personality assessments and how they categorize personality traits.
Here are the differences between the two methods of expression:
Those that use concrete language focus their conversations on the world around them. This includes information on their daily life, the news, and current events.
In abstract discourse, participants share their own thoughts and feelings. The things people imagine or theorize about in their heads, whether real or not, fall under this category.
And just as everyone does something to move closer to their aims and dreams, Keirsey saw just two broad classes of activity. People have a preference for one type of activity over another, even though their actual behavior may vary depending on the circumstances.
There are two distinct ways of approaching the world and taking action:
People who cooperate do so because they care more about doing the right thing and acting within social standards than they do about the consequences of their actions.
Utilitarians are those who do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals. After taking an action, people consider whether or not it is acceptable according to societal standards.
The matrix has four quadrants, one for each combination of communication and action styles. One of the four temperaments is shown in each of the four corners.
Each of the four Keirsey temperament types has its own unique combination of advantages and disadvantages.
Artisans, as their name implies, are typically gifted in the creative arts. They are good with their hands and can handle the challenges of the real world with ease because of their pragmatic and tangible nature.
Also, in their pursuit of excitement and adventure, they are not afraid to disobey the laws or act on impulse. Thirty percent to thirty-five percent of the global population are Artisans, according to the Keirsey Group.
In society, it is the trustworthy and hard-working guardians who are the oil that keeps everything running smoothly. They have a strong work ethic and get along well with others, which makes them reliable citizens who do what they are told and respect their superiors.
They are steadfast in upholding tradition and the law. A study conducted by the Keirsey Group found that between 40 and 45 percent of the global population identified as Guardians.
An idealist’s main concerns are usually with a person’s development and flourishing to the fullest of their abilities. They are idealistic and collaborative, thus they strive for possibilities together.
They are devoted, trustworthy, and generous individuals who often go into fields where they can assist others. The Keirsey Group estimates that between 15 and 20 percent of the global population identifies as an Idealist.
There are four personality types, but rational people are the rarest. Whether it’s an organic, social, mechanical, or any other kind of system, rationals love to figure it out and come up with ways to make it better.
They are pragmatists who are interested in the abstract notions that underpin whatever systems have piqued their interest, therefore we may say that they are abstract and utilitarian.
Intelligent, self-reliant thinkers place a high priority on logic and reason. A lot of the time, they seem distant or withdrawn because they are so wrapped up in the issue they are trying to address. The Keirsey Group estimates that just 5–10% of people worldwide are rational thinkers.
The Reliability of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter
There is a lack of information regarding the reliability and validity of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (KTS-II), the most recent version of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter utilized by schools and career counselors to assist students to learn more about themselves and their career options.
The online KTS-II was shown to have concurrent validity with the more commonly studied MBTI in a study conducted in 2001. Despite the fact that the assessments are strongly correlated and measure the same characteristics, this study implies that the online KTS-II users should be concerned that the MBTI has not been thoroughly validated for use in career counseling.
The paper-and-pencil KTS-II was found to be reliable in a study conducted in 2007, while the researchers did note that eliminating some of the test’s weaker items might increase its validity. This led the researchers to conclude that the test was more suited for academic purposes than for use by people interested in learning more about themselves or their job options.