Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS)

Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS)

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS) is a self-report personality assessment created by psychologist David Keirsey. It was introduced to the public in 1978 in his book Please Understand Me. The questionnaire is designed to help people better understand themselves and others. It is one of the most widely used personality assessments in the world.

The KTS is closely associated with the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). However, there are significant practical and theoretical differences between the two personality questionnaires and their associated different descriptions.

Keirsey expanded on the ancient study of temperament by Hippocrates and Plato. He used the names suggested by Plato: Artisan (iconic), Guardian (pistic), Idealist (noetic), and Rational (dianoetic). Keirsey divided each of the four temperaments into two categories (roles), each with two types (role variants). The resulting 16 types correlate with the 16 personality types described by Briggs and Myers.

The Temperament Matrix

Instead of using the term personality to name his questionnaire, Keirsey used the term temperament. He felt temperament includes 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. Each was 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. They are opposing one another on the matrix, leading to four quadrants. Each quadrant represents one of the four temperaments.

The Four Keirsey 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 – Sensing/Perceiving (SP)

As the name indicates, “Artisans” tend to excel in the arts or anything that requires creativity. This can include fine arts, performing arts, military, political, and industrial arts. They are concrete and utilitarian, which means they’re talented at working with solid objects and confronting real-world situations. They usually take great pride in being unconventional, bold, and spontaneous.  Keirsey explains that “having the freedom to act on the spur of the moment, whenever or wherever an opportunity arises, is very important to SPs”. 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.

Some common terms that both Myers-Briggs and Keirsey use to describe Artisans (SPs) are:

  • Adaptable
  • Artistic
  • Stimulation-seeking
  • Excitable/playful
  • Able to see the needs of the moment
  • Wanting first-hand experiences
  • Tolerant/unprejudiced
  • Easygoing

Guardian – Sensing/Judging (SJ)

People with this temperament are referred to as “Guardians” because of their proclivity to serve and protect important social institutions. 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 naturally talented with the management of goods and services.  These people tend to pay close to attention to their surroundings because they are concerned with scheduling their own and others’ activities in order to make sure that everyone’s needs are met.

They dedicatedy maintain law and order and believe in customs and traditions. According to the Keirsey Group, 40% to 45% of the world’s population are Guardians. Keirsey views SJs as needing “everything [to] be in its proper place, everybody [to] be doing what they’re supposed to … and all legitimate needs promptly met”.

Some common terms used by Myers-Briggs and Keirsey to describe Guardians (SJs) are:

  • Conservative
  • Stable
  • Consistent
  • Routinized
  • Sensible
  • Hard-working
  • Detailed
  • Persevering

Idealist – Intuitive/Feeling (NF)

NFs are considered to be “Idealists” because they tend to be passionately concerned with personal growth and development.  This quest to reach their full potential through self-knowledge and self-improvement acts as a motivating force for their actions and their imagination.  They are concerned with ways to provide meaning and wholeness to people’s lives and they usually experience interpersonal conflict as being very painful. 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. Keirsey states that “all NFs consider it vitally important to have everyone in their circle – their family, friends, and colleagues – feeling good about themselves and getting along with each other”.

Common terms that Myers-Briggs and Keirsey use to describe Idealists (NFs) are:

  • Humane
  • Sympathetic
  • Enthusiastic
  • Religious
  • Intuitive
  • Creative
  • Insightful
  • Subjective

Rational – Intuitive/Thinking (NT)

The NTs are known as the “Rationals” due to their inherent problem-solving nature and interest in understanding systems and how they operate.  They tend to pride themselves on their logical natures and value objectivity and reason in others. There is a tendency to place greater value on being just over being merciful.  NTs are usually introspective, but are “tough-minded” in the way they usually go about solving problems. 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.  Keirsey explains that “all NTs insist that they have a rationale for everything they do, that whatever they do and say makes sense”.

Common terms used by Myers-Briggs and Keirsey to describe Rationals (NTs) are:

  • Analytical
  • Efficient
  • Systematic
  • Independent
  • Scientific
  • Competent
  • Inventive
  • Logical

Which Temperament is Better?

Through an assessment and understanding of our own temperament and the temperaments of our loved ones, we can learn more effective ways of communicating with others and reaching our dreams and aspirations. There is great power in increasing self-knowledge/self-awareness and sensitive understanding of important people in our lives.

Our individual temperaments largely define our values and self-image. Temperament predisposes us to see the world and understand others in certain ways.  When we are able to understand our own temperament better and the temperaments of important people in our lives, we can ascertain the most effective ways of communicating and relating to others.

No temperament is “better” or “worse” than any other.  We all have strengths and limitations that affect the way that we see ourselves and choose to engage in the world.  Increasing self-knowledge and self-awareness through understanding your own temperament can serve to enrich your self-concept and your relationships with others.

16 Personality 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 investigates external behavior and especially the dichotomy between intuition and sensing.

Artisan

  • Composers (ISFP)
  • Crafters (ISTP)
  • Performers (ESFP)
  • Promoters (ESTP)

Guardian

  • Inspectors (ISTJ)
  • Protectors (ISFJ)
  • Providers (ESFJ)
  • Supervisors (ESTJ)

Idealist

  • Champions (ENFP)
  • Counselors (INFJ)
  • Healers (INFP)
  • Teachers (ENFJ)

Rational

  • Architects (INTP)
  • Fieldmarshals (ENTJ)
  • Inventors (ENTP)
  • Masterminds (INTJ)

For more detailed description of each of the 16 Personality Types please visit our dedicated web page: Keirsey Personality Types.

Myers–Briggs types versus Keirsey’s temperaments

The type descriptions of Isabel Myers differ from the character descriptions of David Keirsey in several important ways:

  • Myers primarily focused on how people think and feel; Keirsey focused more on behavior, which is directly observable.
  • Myers’s descriptions use a linear four-factor model; Keirsey’s descriptions use a systems field theory model.
  • Myers, following Jung’s lead, emphasized the extraversion/introversion (expressive/attentive) dichotomy; Keirsey’s model places greater importance on the sensing/intuition (concrete/abstract) dichotomy.
  • Myers grouped types by ‘function attitudes’; Keirsey, by temperament.

Myers grouped types according to cognitive function: the ‘thinking type’ grouping for those with dominant thinking; the ‘intuitive type’ grouping for those with dominant intuition; the ‘feeling type’ grouping for those with dominant feeling; and the ‘sensing type’ grouping for those with dominant sensing. Keirsey’s temperaments correlate with Myers’ combinations of preferences: Guardians with sensing plus judging (SJ); Artisans with sensing plus perceiving (SP); Idealists with intuition plus feeling (NF); and Rationals with intuition plus thinking (NT).

Myers paired ESTJs with ENTJs, ISFPs with INFPs, INTPs with ISTPs, and ENFJs with ESFJs because they share the same dominant function attitude. ESTJs and ENTJs are both extraverted thinkers, ISFPs and INFPs are both introverted feelers, INTPs and ISTPs are both introverted thinkers, and ENFJs and ESFJs are both extraverted feelers. Keirsey holds that these same groupings are very different from one another because they are of different temperaments. ESTJs are Guardians whereas ENTJs are Rationals; ISFPs are Artisans whereas INFPs are Idealists; INTPs are Rationals whereas ISTPs are Artisans; and ENFJs are Idealists whereas ESFJs are Guardians.

Accuracy of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Career counselors and schools widely use the latest version of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (KTS-II). Their aim is to help people better understand themselves and their potential career prospects. However, available 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. The assessments have high positively correlation and measure the same constructs. At the same time, some research suggests the MBTI has not passed adequate validation 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 better suited for research than for use by individuals seeking to assess their own personalities and career possibilities.

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