What personality classifications have in common

There are many ways to divide people into four personality types, from the classical—sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic—to contemporary systems such as the DISC profile. The Myers-Briggs system divides people into sixteen personality types. I just recently ran across the “enneagram,” an ancient [1] system for dividing people into nine categories.

There’s one thing advocates of all the aforementioned systems agree on: the number of basic personality types is a perfect square.


[1] Update: Maybe not so ancient. Promoters of the enneagram say it traces back to medieval or ancient times, but it looks like it traces back to only the 20th century, depending on how you look at it. The origins are strange and controversial. It’s the least reputable of the systems mentioned here.

8 thoughts on “What personality classifications have in common

  1. I don’t know anything about those systems, but I’m guessing they are based on two “personality-components” with n subcategries each, resulting in n² personality types.

  2. That’s true of Myers-Briggs. There are four binary dimensions. But it would not have been true if there were another dimension, for example. It’s 2^n rather than n^2, but it works out to a square if n is even.

    I don’t think the four classical personality types are based on two components. You often see them arranged into a square, but I think they’re really just a list of four types.

    The enneagram is definitely not 3 by 3. It’s a list of nine personality types, not a Cartesian product of three components.

  3. I think the four humors were supposed to map onto hot/cold and wet/dry axes, actually, and the classical personality types each corresponded to a preponderance of one of those humors. (Source: vague memory of Wootton’s *Bad Medicine*.)

  4. Hehe, good observation.

    Mine counter-example: Feminine / Masculine Polarity typology. :-)
    Enneagram actually have 27 types (9 main types, each type have 3 wings).

  5. Peter Laudenslager

    5 Love Languages also avoids the pattern.

    Have always wanted to test people on multiple systems and see if they are correlated or orthogonal.

  6. For the geek comment of the post: also applies for DnD personalities (two dimensions, three posibilities each: Chaotic-Neutral-Lawful, Bad-Neutral-Good).

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