What Is the Keirsey Temperament Sorter?

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The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is a self-report personality assessment created by psychologist David Keirsey. It was introduced to the public in his 1978 book Please Understand Me.

The questionnaire divides people into four temperaments, which Keirsey labeled Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, and Rational. Each of the four temperaments is then further sorted into four character types, leading to a total of 16 possible personality types in total.

This article covers the origins of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, describes the four temperaments, and discusses the assessment's accuracy.

Origins of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Keirsey initially became interested in psychology and personality type in the 1940s while serving as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific in World War II.

During college and graduate school, he became fascinated with the patterns of four temperaments that can be seen in work by classical philosophers like Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Plato.

After introducing the Keirsey Temperament Sorter in Please Understand Me, he went on to further refine and develop his ideas in additional books, including 1998's Please Understand Me II.

The Temperament Matrix

Instead of using the term personality to name his questionnaire, Keirsey used the term temperament because he felt temperament is made up of personality traits one can observe, including the way one typically communicates, the kinds of actions one takes to accomplish their goals, and their talents, values, and preferences.

The four temperaments are the result of a matrix built on the way two elements of temperament interact: communication and action, which were each divided into two broad opposing groups.

Communication

The ability to communicate is a cornerstone of human experience. However, Keirsey maintained that there are two general topics people discuss, and while everyone talks about each one, people tend to prefer one over another.

These two communication styles are:

  • Concrete: People who communicate in a concrete way discuss external reality. This includes facts of their daily lives, the news, and other things going on in the world.
  • Abstract: People who communicate in an abstract way discuss internal ideas. This includes their dreams, fantasies, beliefs, and theories about what is or what could be in life.

Action

Similarly, all people take action to reach their goals and objectives, but Keirsey felt there were only two categories of action.

Although people may ultimately take action in different ways based on the situation, they tend to prefer one kind of action over the other.

These two action orientations are:

  • Cooperative: People who act cooperatively are more concerned with doing the right thing and staying within the bounds of social norms than with the results of their actions.
  • Utilitarian: People who act in a utilitarian way do whatever they need to do to meet their objectives effectively. They only pay attention to whether they have stayed within the bounds of social norms after they've taken action.

The two styles of communication and two styles of action are placed opposite one another on the matrix, leading to four quadrants. Each quadrant represents one of the four temperaments.

The Four Temperaments

The four temperament types defined by Keirsey each have different strengths and weaknesses, skills and talents.

The four temperaments are:

  1. Artisan
  2. Guardian
  3. Idealist
  4. Rational

Artisan

As the name indicates, Artisans tend to excel in the arts or anything that requires creativity. They are concrete and utilitarian, which means they're talented at working with solid objects and confronting real-world situations.

Also, they are willing to take risks and break the rules and can be impulsive in their constant quest for excitement and adventure. According to the Keirsey Group, 30% to 35% of the world's population are Artisans.

Guardian

Guardians are dependable, hard-working individuals who keep the wheels of society turning. They are concrete and cooperative, which means they follow the rules and respect authority.

They are dedicated to maintaining law and order and believe in customs and traditions. According to the Keirsey Group, 40% to 45% of the world's population are Guardians.

Idealist

Idealists tend to focus on personal growth, self-improvement, and people reaching their potential. They are abstract and cooperative, and as a result, they strongly believe in working together harmoniously to pursue what could be, rather than what is.

They are loyal, honest, and kind, and tend to pursue careers that enable them to help people. According to the Keirsey Group, 15% to 20% of the world's population are Idealists.

Rational

Rationals are the rarest of the four temperaments. Rationals are problem-solvers who enjoy figuring out systems (whether those systems are organic, social, mechanical, or something else) and determining how to improve them.

They are abstract and utilitarian, which means they are pragmatic in their approach and interested in abstract concepts that underlie whatever systems have caught their interest.

Rationals value intelligence, independent thinking, and logic. They often become completely absorbed by whatever problem they are trying to solve, making them seem aloof or withdrawn. According to the Keirsey Group, a mere 5% to 10% of the world's population are Rationals.

The 16 Character Types

Each of Keirsey's temperaments is subdivided into four character types. In addition to the label given to each character type by Keirsey, each type is also labeled with a set of four letters corresponding to the four sets of preferences used in another personality assessment, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), to label personality types.

Those preferences and the letters used to symbolize them are:

  • E (Extraversion) vs. I (Introversion)
  • S (Sensing) vs. N (Intuition)
  • T (Thinking) vs. F (Feeling)
  • J (Judging) vs. P (Perceiving)

The 16 types of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter are based on the MBTI, therefore indicating the same basic preferences.

However, the emphases of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and MBTI are different. The MBTI focuses on interior thoughts and feelings and especially the dichotomy between extraversion and introversion. The Keirsey Sorter is interested in external behavior and especially the dichotomy between intuition and sensing.

The 16 types are listed below and separated by temperament.

Artisan

  • Composers (ISFP) are sensitive and have a talent for synthesizing various artistic elements.
  • Crafters (ISTP) are expert tool users but aren't easy to get close to.
  • Performers (ESFP) are entertainers who are able to delight and stimulate with their talents.
  • Promoters (ESTP) are bold, daring, optimistic, and exciting to be around.

Guardian

  • Inspectors (ISTJ) are dedicated to their responsibilities and the rules and standards upholding the institutions they are a part of.
  • Protectors (ISFJ) are concerned with maintaining the safety and security of the people they care about.
  • Providers (ESFJ) supply friendly social services and meet the needs of others.
  • Supervisors (ESTJ) are highly involved in social groups and like to take on responsibility and leadership roles within them.

Idealist

  • Champions (ENFP) have complex emotional lives and seek out meaningful experiences and fascinating people.
  • Counselors (INFJ) are dedicated to helping others realize their full potential.
  • Healers (INFP) care deeply about special people and important causes and are driven to heal conflicts.
  • Teachers (ENFJ) have a talent for teaching others and have boundless belief in their students.

Rational

  • Architects (INTP) are master designers of everything from buildings to corporate systems.
  • Fieldmarshals (ENTJ) tend to take jobs as leaders and executives due to their ability to create well-oiled systems that meet both short and long-term goals.
  • Inventors (ENTP) are constantly using their talent to innovate and find better ways to do things.
  • Masterminds (INTJ) are planners who understand complex systems and are able to plan for all contingencies.

Reliability and Validity of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter

While the latest version of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (KTS-II), is widely used by career counselors and schools to help people better understand themselves and their potential career prospects, data on the reliability and validity of the questionnaire is quite limited.

A 2001 study found concurrent validity between the online version of the KTS-II and the MBTI, which has been more widely studied. While this means the assessments are highly positively correlated and measure the same constructs, some research suggests the MBTI has not been adequately validated for use in career counseling, a concern this study indicates should extend to the online KTS-II.

Meanwhile, a 2007 study found that the pen-and-paper version of the KTS-II was reasonably reliable, although item analysis revealed that dropping some weaker items would result in improvements. Because of this, the researchers suggested the assessment was better suited to research than for use by individuals seeking to assess their personalities and career possibilities.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter Today

Due to its easy accessibility online, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II is one of the most popular personality assessments in use today. It has been taken by over 100 million people in 170 countries and translated into 18 languages.

The KTS-II is a 70-question forced-choice assessment, where the respondent must choose between two options for each item. The official version of the assessment is freely available online through the Keirsey Group's website.

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24 Sources
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  12. Keirsey.com. Learn about the guardian protector.

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  17. Keirsey.com. Learn about the idealist healer.

  18. Keirsey.com. Learn about the idealist teacher.

  19. Keirsey.com. Learn about the rational architect.

  20. Keirsey.com. Learn about the rational fieldmarshal.

  21. Keirsey.com. Learn about the rational inventor.

  22. Keirsey.com. Learn about the rational mastermind.

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