There are many more typing systems, ancient and modern, than the seven we look at here. But except for Human Design, which is relatively new, these are among the best known and most representative varieties. For explanations that go well beyond the brief descriptions here, consult the books and Web sites at the end of each entry.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®
Probably the best known and most widely used typing system, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was developed in the early 1940s by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, modifying a typology developed by Carl Jung. By means of questions, it assesses the test-taker's personality on the basis of four pairs of variables:
This is a measurement of psychic energy flow: where it goes and how it is replenished. In the extraverted attitude, psychic energy streams outward toward the world, society, and others -- toward what psychologists call the object. The extravert tends to be optimistic and to adjust well to social norms -- running the risk, however, of unquestioning conformity. The extravert is typically uncomfortable with the inner world and with being alone. The presence of others helps the extravert recharge.
In introversion, the psychic flow is inward, toward the subject, that is, the world of the self, emotion, and thought. The introvert tends to prefer his or her own company to that of others, to have a small and quite select set of friends, and to be prey to pessimism, self-doubt, and self-absorption. Though not necessarily socially inept (any more than the extravert is necessarily incapable of deep thought and reflection), the introvert tends to recharge his or her batteries in solitude.
Jung pioneered this important pair of categories, and despite widespread resistance to psychological typing in mainstream psychology, E/I has gained wide acceptance there. Jung developed it in part as a response to the historic rift between Sigmund Freud and his student Alfred Adler. Freud claimed that neuroses arose out of sexual conflict; for Adler they grew out of an individual's relationship with society and power.
Pondering the difference, Jung decided that it was based on the fact that Freud was an extravert and Adler was an introvert. Thus Freud saw the outward-aimed sex instinct as primary, and the thwarting of that instinct as the problem, and Adler viewed the psyche's basic move as an attempt to protect itself from the outer world, even at the risk of isolation and suffocation.
(N stands for intuition)
This is an assessment of how people gather information. Sensors like to take in facts, are pragmatic, realistic, and concrete, value common sense, and prefer to operate from the way things are at present.
Intuitives take in information through their senses just like sensors, but they are more likely to respond to inner intuitions prompted by what they gather. They are more interested in theories, abstraction, speculation, and imagination than their S counterparts.
These functions point to how we make decisions. Thinkers like to analyze problems, are convinced by logical arguments, and are most comfortable being objective. They have a well-developed sense of justice.
Feelers operate more subjectively, valuing the maintenance of relationships over abstract justice. Peacemakers and harmony-creators, they tend to decide with their hearts rather than their heads.
These terms assess how a person prefers to live, how he or she meets the daily challenges of life. The judger likes order, structure, and plan, while the perceiver is more comfortable with openness, flexibility, and improvisation.
"Scoring" the MBTI results in a four-letter assessment of personality type, for example, INFP ("introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving") or ESTJ ("extraverted, sensing, thinking, judging.") Sixteen types are possible, and so the system has a good deal of flexibility. An ISFJ is quiet, friendly, and reserved (as an introverted and feeling type) but also self-disciplined, well-organized, and good with tasks, thanks to his or her S and J orientation toward the real world and structure -- the classic unobtrusively dependable person. An ENTP, on the other hand, is outspoken and gregarious and likes debate (extraverted and thinking traits) but, as an intuitive and a perceiver, thrives on coming up with new ideas and fresh ways of doing things -- an entrepreneurial type.
FIND OUT MORE: Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator by Isabel Briggs Myers with Mary McCaulley (Palo Alto, Calif.: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1985). For a popularly written, self-help-style introduction to the 16 Myers-Briggs types, see What Type Am I? Discover Who You Really Are by Renee Baron (Penguin, 1998). Web: www.myersbriggs.org
This is another high-profile typing system today. The origin of the nine-sided diagram on which it is based is mysterious; it's been traced to, among others, the Pythagoreans, the Christian Desert Fathers, and the Sufis. The Armenian-Greek spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff (1872-1949) was the first modern writer to employ it, using it to explain how many different phenomena in the universe grow and change. The first to apply the Enneagram to the human personality was the Bolivian Oscar Ichazo, founder of Arica training, a pioneering method of human development that first flourished in the late 1960s.
Ichazo's typology was a rich blend of Christian spirituality, Greek philosophy, Jewish mysticism, and other influences -- not simply a typing system, but a method for achieving (actually returning to) what Ichazo called Essence -- a union with the world and with others that transcends ego. In Ichazo's scheme, each of nine personality types is connected with a Virtue and a Holy Idea; they represent that type's essential way of experiencing Essence. But having fallen into the snares of ego, each type also has a Passion and a Fixation that keep it in bondage. The goal is to become of aware of these states of oneness and separation so that the separation can be overcome. Ichazo's "traditional" Enneagram has been successfully adapted by Catholic and other Christian writers and teachers as a method of spiritual growth.
Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson have developed a system of Enneagram typing that is more in line with contemporary psychology. It retains the goal of self-knowledge and growth. (There are, of course, many other contemporary Enneagram interpreters worthy of note.) Here are Riso and Hudson's types:
Type 1: The Reformer
A rational idealist with high principles and a tendency to perfectionism. Servant of a higher good, but with a tendency to be opinionated and judgmental.
Type 2: The Helper
Caring, good on the interpersonal level, warm, but prone to flattery and people-pleasing.
Type 3: The Achiever
Competent, efficient, driven, image-conscious, often charming; a self-promoter who may alienate others by boastfulness or manipulation.
Type 4: The Individualist
Sensitive, self-absorbed, temperamental, with a flair for the dramatic and a desire to be seen as unique; can be moody and self-indulgent.
Type 5: The Investigator
Cerebral, studious, focused, analytical, creative, and original in thought; tends to stand off or apart from others, and may be seen as high-strung or self-isolating.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Committed, responsible, faithful, security-conscious, but also anxious, suspicious, pessimistic.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Busy, fun-loving, spontaneous, and excitable; in love with life but with a tendency toward lack of focus, irresponsibility, and impatience.
Type 8: The Challenger
Powerful, dominating, action-oriented, self-confident, competitive; can also be cynical, vengeful, and bad-tempered.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Easygoing, self-effacing, happily sensual, agreeable, and contented; yet sometimes emotionally unavailable, unaware of his or her own anger, and passive-aggressive.
The nine types are just the beginning with the Enneagram; the heart of the system is the various ways the types relate to each other, connected as they are on the nine-sided diagram; for Enneagram enthusiasts, this can be a lifelong study.
FIND OUT MORE: Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson (Houghton Mifflin, 2000) is a comprehensive introduction to the traditional and the contemporary Enneagram. Web: www.enneagraminstitute.com
Seven Intelligences and Learning Styles
Noting that schools tend to measure and reward only linguistic and logical-mathematical modes of intelligence, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner has come up with five more ways that children (and the rest of us) can be "smart." Here are Gardner's seven intelligences, based on the work of Thomas Armstrong, who is adapting Gardner's model for use in the classroom. Armstrong suggests that educators identify these "multiple intelligences" in their students and create learning opportunities in line with each, rather than forcing everyone into a verbal-mathematical straitjacket.
Has highly developed auditory skills; enjoys playing with the sound of words, and also reading, writing, storytelling, word games.
Finds conceptual thinking easy and likes to explore categories, patterns, numbers, and relationships. Likes puzzles that require reasoning, strategy games like chess, and computers.
Thinks in images and pictures; knows where things are in the house. Loves to draw, design, build with blocks, and in-vent original contraptions. Easily reads maps and diagrams and "gets it" when something is explained with visuals.
May become interested in playing musical instruments; is sensitive to sound in the environment (insects, car horns, bells) and often has pronounced feelings or opinions about music heard on the radio or elsewhere. May actually need music playing to study effectively!
Processes knowledge mainly through the sensations of the body. May be athletically gifted, or possess fine-motor skills (sewing, doing crafts, drawing). Is anxious to be moving; fidgets until allowed to express him- or herself in decisive bodily action.
Understands and enjoys people. Can pick up on others' feelings and intuitively knows how to lead and influence others. Is interested in who likes whom, who's fighting with whom, and other "people" issues.
Has a deep awareness of his or her interior world: dreams, ideas, feelings. Shies away from group activities; may keep a diary or have semisecret hobbies.
FIND OUT MORE: Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner (Basic Books, 1983; revised edition 1993). In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child's Personal Learning Style by Thomas Armstrong (Tarcher/Putnam, 1987).
The Four Temperaments
Ancient Greek medicine, following its patron, Hippocrates, identified four basic body-mind types, based on the anatomical theory that one of four bodily "humors" (liquids in the circulatory system, each of which is associated with one of the ancient physical elements that make up the universe) is dominant in everyone. The dominant humors have nothing to do with upbringing, intelligence, cultivation, or moral worth; they are basic potentials of the mind-body.
Dominated by choler (yellow bile), which is associated with fire: active, energetic, gets things accomplished. Can also be volatile, erratic, and quick to anger. Short, stocky, perhaps bull-necked.
Dominated by blood, associated with the element air. Cheerful, talkative, vivacious; impatient, unpredictable, and changeable. Has rosy cheeks and a healthy glow.
Dominated by phlegm, the "watery" humor. Placid, steady, kind, methodical, and dependable -- although stormy if aroused. Comfortably built, perhaps a little flabby.
Dominated by black bile, which is associated with earth. A heavy, somewhat sadly thoughtful personality with a tendency to meditate, brood, and dwell in the inner world. Slow to move, sallow in complexion.
The Austrian philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) is perhaps the most important modern reviver of the four-humor approach to personality. He used it somewhat in the same way that Thomas Armstrong uses the multiple-intelligences idea -- as a reminder to stay alert to the differences among children and to adapt educational practice to those differences. A sophisticated version of four-humor theory is one of the linchpins of the Waldorf educational system, which Steiner founded.
FIND OUT MORE: The Four Temperaments by Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophic Press, 1968). For a contemporary, self-help-style take on the four-humor theory, see The Four Temperaments: A Rediscovery of the Ancient Way of Understanding Health and Character by Randy Rolfe (Marlowe and Co., 2002). Rudolf Steiner Institute on the Web: www.steinerinstitute.org
The Greek-derived four-humors typology has an ancient Indian counterpart: the three body-mind types used by Ayurveda, the holistic medicine of traditional India. The three "types," called doshas, are actually three complex principles of the body. Among other things, Pitta refers to metabolic energy, body temperature, and digestion; Kapha to the structural principle of the body -- bones, bodily strength, and bulk; and Vata to the energy of bodily movement and movements (of fluid, etc.) within the body. All three principles are present in everyone in various proportions, but one is seen to be dominant in most people. The Ayurvedic physician tailors treatment carefully to the body-mind type of the patient.
An intense person, with a tendency to take command of situations. Bold, easily angered, precise, orderly, articulate, and mentally sharp. Strong appetite, medium build, well-proportioned.
A relaxed person, slow and graceful in action, slow to anger, affectionate and forgiving. Slow digestion, moderate appetite. Good physical stamina. A slow learner, but with a good capacity for retaining what has been learned.
A changeable person, unpredictable, whose energy comes in short bursts and whose moods alter without warning. Quick to learn new information, and quick to forget it. Tendency to worry and to suffer from insomnia. Thin, even underweight, sensitive to sound and to changes in environment.
FIND OUT MORE: Perfect Health: The Complete Body-Mind Guide by Deepak Chopra (revised edition, Harmony Books, 2001) is an accessible guide to Ayurvedic typing and medicine.
William Sheldon's Body-Mind Types
Body-mind typing, which fuses the physical and the mental-emotional states, isn't just ancient and Indian; a respected American psychologist developed a modern version in 1942. William Sheldon and his colleagues analyzed 4,000 photographs of human beings and came up with three basic body tendencies: endomorphy (soft, well-rounded), mesomorphy (muscular, sturdy), and ectomorphy (fragile, slender, delicate). To avoid pigeonholing, Sheldon established a seven-point scale for each body tendency. An extreme endomorph is recorded as 7-1-1, an extreme mesomorph as 1-7-1, and an extreme ectomorph as 1-1-7. Several instances of a balanced body type, 4-4-4, were found. All told, the system allows for 343 different body types.
Sheldon also associated personality traits with each body type; these are closely related to a special orientation toward a particular aspect or part of the body in each.
Viscerotonic (oriented to the organs of digestion). Exhibits a desire to embrace and incorporate the world into the self -- and to do this symbolically by eating. Desire for food, comfort, relaxation. Earthy, practical, realistic, a "nester" who wants to establish himself or herself comfortably in the earth.
Somatotonic (oriented to the whole body). Craves vigorous action, loves to meet obstacles and conquer them. Lacking in introspection, insight, self-awareness, but openhearted, rather guileless, and straightforward. Susceptible to habit.
Cerebrotonic (oriented to the front brain). The brain keeps a tight rein on viscerotonic and somatotonic tendencies, in order to intensify the action of consciousness. Tense, hyperattentive, self-conscious, with a tendency to insomnia and a rapid metabolism.
FIND OUT MORE: Varieties of Temperament by William Sheldon (Harper & Bros., 1942).
Drawing on science and esoteric systems from around the world -- from quantum physics, biochemistry, and genetics to astrology, the Hindu chakra system, the Judaic Kabbalah, and the Chinese I Ching -- Human Design is a new integrated system of knowledge. Despite its complexity and ber-New Agey beginnings -- Canadian-born Ra Uru Hu received this information from "The Voice" while hanging out in the Mediterranean island of Ibiza in 1987 -- Human Design has quite practical applications.
Based on your birth time and location, Human Design offers you two views of yourself. The first is your personality, who you think you're supposed to be. The second is your design -- that is, who you are meant to be. "Self-hatred is truly misplaced," Uru Hu told the British body-mind-spirit magazine Kindred Spirit, one of the few publications to cover this new system, "because people do not know themselves. They're hating the wrong person. Disappointed with the wrong person. Dissatisfied with the wrong person."
In Human Design, you begin to find out who you really are by learning your type and a simple strategy to follow for making decisions in your life.
The only true initiators -- they make up 8 percent of the population. If they act without informing others of their intentions first, they meet resistance because the people involved in the manifestor's life feel ignored or, worse, run over. By not following their strategy, manifestors can end up feeling distant from other people. Strategy: Inform before acting.
The most common type today, about 70 percent of the population. They are here to do, but generally don't know what to do or where to go until they respond to a situation. Response is often signaled by a feeling deep in the abdomen and accompanied by nonverbal sounds like "uh-huh" or "mmmmm." If they don't follow their strategy, generators feel stuck, or they get involved in the wrong things, become frustrated, and quit. Strategy: Wait to act until your response is clear. Do not initiate.
About 21 percent of the population. Naturally able to work with and guide the energy of others, but only when they are recognized and appreciated for their unique abilities and traits. They are noticed everywhere they go, but often not seen for who they really are. They need to be invited before acting or joining in. Strategy: Wait to be invited, especially for big events in life like marriage, career, family, and love. Do not pursue or initiate.
Less than 2 percent of the population. Open to the world, they take others in deeply and have the potential to be very wise. Because their design is not fixed, reflectors often struggle with themselves; if they don't understand their openness, they can be disappointed in life. Before acting, they need a waiting period in order to access their inner wisdom. Strategy: Wait 28 days (one moon cycle) before making major decisions.
FIND OUT MORE: Web: Human Design America (www.humandesignamerica.com), Human Design Online (www.humandesignonline.com), and Jovian Archive (www.jovianarchive.com), where you can listen to daily streaming audio messages from Ra Uru Hu. Weekend messages are geared toward beginners.
Reporting on Human Design by Karen Olson.