Myers Briggs Simplified Into Four Temperaments

I find personality tests too confining and too alluring. It’s easy for me to put everyone and everything in a box, but I can’t stand being put in a box. Of course, that’s just what you’d expect from an INTJ.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator derives 16 different types from four preferences symbolized by eight different letters (extroverted or introverted [E or I], sensing vs. intuitive [N or S], thinking vs. feeling [T or F], and judging vs. perceiving [J or P]). From these, you can derive your personality type, such as INTJ or ESFP.

For a long time, I resisted taking the Myers Briggs personality test, even though everyone said it was helpful. When I finally did take the test, I was quite shocked at how right they were. It helped me lean into my strengths, see my weaknesses clearly, and sort out relationship differences.

You can take the test here or here.

Since I took that test, I’ve talked to dozens of people about Myers-Briggs. I’ve also found that the 16 personality types, while helpful, can be a bit overwhelming.

David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates wrote a classic on the Myers-Briggs types (check out their book Please Understand Me here). One thing I would like to give greater exposure to is their simplification of the Myers-Briggs types into four temperaments. By temperaments, they simply mean that there are four categories of four personality types that have much more in common with each other than they do the other 12 types.

The four temperaments are based on two letters they share in common in the personality type indicator. Here are the names of each with the letters they have in common: Guardians (SJ), Artisans (SP), Idealists (NF), and Rationals (NT). Allow me to briefly explain each temperament (see also the descriptions at

The SJ Guardians include ESTJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, and ISFJ. This is the most common type, close to half of the population. They are the guardians of tradition. They are committed to duty and engage in service to those around them. They are loyal.

I have really come to appreciate the Guardians. They are the ones who will volunteer and make sacrifices. They will be consistent when others aren’t. They will make plans and carry them out well for the ones they love and care about.

The SP Artisans include ESTP, ISTP, ESFP, and ISFP. The Artisans are about action. They can be just as intelligent as other types, but they learn more by doing and repetition than by thinking through plans and principles. They often become the most skilled at doing things because they enjoy the doing of them, so I sometimes call them “the doers” rather than Artisans.

This category is probably the most fascinating to me because it includes my opposite (ESFP) and is least like me. I always wondered how musical artists could perform the same songs over and over and over again. If I had to do that, I would probably die of boredom. The Artisan, however, loves the performance. They are wired to enjoy doing it again and again. That’s why they can attain great skill without even seeking to attain it. It’s not practice but the love of performing and doing that gives them that enables them to accomplish amazing things.

The Intuitive (N) types are much rarer than the Sensing (S) types. They represent the only set in the eight letters that is significantly imbalanced in the population (roughly 3 to 1).

The NF Idealists include the ENFJ, ENFP, INFJ, and INFP. These are the poets, the novelists, and the crusaders. They are devoted to causes. They look beyond the surface to find the greater purpose and meaning of life. Their quest is for authenticity.

The idealists will go to almost any length for the people and causes they care about. They know how to take the common things of life and turn them into things of beauty, style, and grace. Without the idealists, we would have few novels or lasting expressions of the highest human sentiments. They devote themselves to the higher purposes of life and often fill the ranks of human services and religious organizations.

The NT Rationals include the ENTJ, ENTP, INTJ, and INTP. They look beyond the surface to see how things work. They are the scientists and the engineers. They look for the causes behind things and the way to categorize reality. Keirsey & Bates suggest that their main interest is “[t]o be able to understand, control, predict, and explain realities” (48).

I am one of them, so I’ll make one small criticism. We are Rationals, but that doesn’t mean we’re the smartest. We may be able to explain astronomy, but sometimes we’re so dumb we don’t have any idea that we were completely ignorant of how people felt about what we were talking about! On the positive side, the rationals can consider a lot of details, find the patterns in them, and organize new ways of putting them together. They come up with strategies and new ideas that can benefit others.

These are the four temperaments of Keirsey and Bates. I have found them pretty helpful in explaining some of the ways people interact around me. People are more than personality type, but I find that a remarkable amount of human behavior is colored by these temperaments.

And how can Myers-Briggs and the four temperaments help us? It can help us appreciate the differences. I can appreciate the service-mindedness of the SJ, the active nature of the SP, the authenticity of the NF, and the rational inquisitiveness of the NT.

Understanding these temperaments can also help us learn to accept ourselves. People do sometimes look down on others because of their differences. We may have thought that we were weird or had something wrong with us because we are, for example, introverted. Instead, we can realize that the way we are is just another way of being human, and that’s good! Each temperament has important contributions to make, including yours!


2 Replies to “Myers Briggs Simplified Into Four Temperaments”

  1. The danger of ‘type-ing’ people with personality assessments is that those armed with that information can/will use that information in relating to the subject. And that would create an unintended deflection by the subject.
    The reason the types are not cut-and-dry is, of course, because they cross each other. A very general determination might be useful.. might. If it can be verified after a long-term relationship, without referencing the test results, there might be value in knowing the results. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible. And that’s if we trust the test in the first place.
    It seems to me that you would have to factor in the personality before the test was taken. That would make the whole thing circular. Maybe that’s why the same or similar questions are repeated.. I don’t know. I do know that whenever I have taken tests like the M-B, it was fairly easy to determine why questions were asked, thus influencing response. Now the the person who, following the directions, would give their response quickly without more extensive consideration, is likely very different than me and would, I suppose, have a different outcome.
    Also, on any given day, someone could give very different responses, based on how they slept, coffee or no, illness –physical or emotional, what they heard on the morning news, or whether they listened to Bach, Beethoven or the Beatles on the way to take the test.
    I’m no statistician, but I’d bet these things aren’t included in the assessment design. But does that make for a valid assessment? I’d say yes and no.. in some cases but not in others.
    I’m tired and going to bed.

  2. Hi Tim, it’s interesting that I have always thought something similar about these tests. Even when I was taking the MB test, I tended to think that this was the case. However, when I got the results and studied the personality type, I was actually shocked at how much explanatory power it had. I wondered if I could see the same things about the other personality types. No. It was quite clear that this was the pattern I followed. Others might not find the same thing. I recognize that.

    After I took the test, I was able to further calibrate it through further analysis. For example, I think that working in a people profession for so long has made me ask the question, what are other people thinking? to a much greater degree (a Feeling preference). However, my natural bent is Thinking–to ask, what is the most logical means to the end. So, I would probably score my T more highly than I did on the test.

    So, if just taking the test were the only way to think about these things, you might be right. However, further self-analysis, study, and awareness can supplement the test. In fact, that’s what this article is about!:)

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