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David Keirsey

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David West Keirsey

David West Keirsey, PhD (b. August 31, 1921, Oklahoma), is an internationally renowned psychologist, a professor emeritus at California State University, Fullerton, and the author of several books. In his most popular publications Please Understand Me (1978, co-authored by Marilyn Bates) and the revised and expanded second volume Please Understand Me II (1998), he lays out a self-assessed personality questionnaire, known as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which links human behaviorial patterns to four temperaments and sixteen character types. Both volumes of Please Understand Me contain the questionnaire for type evaluation and detailed descriptions of temperament traits and personality characteristics. With a focus on conflict management and cooperation, Dr. Keirsey specialized in family and partnership counseling and the coaching children and adults.

Education and professional experience

Keirsey earned his bachelor's degree from Pomona College, and his master's, and doctorate degrees from Claremont Graduate University. In 1950, he started his career dealing with youthful mischief as a counselor at a probation ranch home for delinquent boys. Since then, he has spent twenty years working in public schools engaged in corrective interventions, intended to help troubled and troublesome children stay out of trouble. Over the next eleven years at California State University, Fullerton, he trained corrective counselors to identifying deviant habits of children, parents, and teachers, and to apply techniques aimed at enabling them to abandon such habits.

Development of Keirsey's temperaments

Keirsey's work can be traced back to the father of medicine, Hippocrates, and to Plato and Aristotle, Among his modern influences he counts the works of William James, John Dewey, Ernst Kretschmer, William Sheldon, Jay Haley, Gregory Bateson, Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, Raymond Wheeler, Erich Fromm, Alfred Adler, Rudolf Dreikurs, Milton Erickson, and Erving Goffman.

Isabel Briggs Myers was the first to define the sixteen personality types now used by many researchers and practitioners, and by Keirsey in a somewhat modified form. Keirsey provides his own definitions of the sixteen types initially identified by Myers, based on his studies of the five behavioral sciences (anthropology, biology, ethology, psychology, and sociology). While Myers writes mostly about the Jungian 'psychological functions', thinking, feeling, intuiting, and sensing, which are covert 'mental processes', Keirsey focuses more upon how persons use words in sending messages and use tools in getting things done, which are not covert processes but overt actions.

While Keirsey's main strength may be his accuracy regarding differences in overt behavior, perhaps his most important contribution was his synthesizing Myers' Jungian model of eight 'function types' with Ernst Kretschmer's model of four "temperament types." While Myers proposed a two-dimensional grid based on the assumption that the four pairs of 'introverts' are alike, and that the four pairs of 'extraverts' are similarly alike, Keirsey realigned the pattern in three-dimensions, using the three other trait distinctions (other than introvert/extravert) that better align with a number of existing models, including Kretschmer's, that Keirsey traces back at least to Greek mythology.

Myers wrote that 1) INTPs and ISTPs are alike; 2) INFJs and INTJs are alike; 3) INFPs and ISFPs are alike; 4) ISTJs and ISFJs are alike; 5) ENFJs and ESFJs are alike; 6) ENTJs and ESTJs are alike; 7) ENFPs and ENTPs are alike; 8) ESFPs and ESTPs are alike. None of these pairings made sense to Keirsey, so he, going with Kretschmer's Hyeresthetics, Anesthetics, Melancholics, and Hypomanics, ascertained that the four "NFs" (iNtuitive/Feeling types) were Hyperesthetic (oversensitive), the four "NTs" (iNtuitive/Thinking) were Anesthetic (insensitive), the four "SJs" (Sensing/Judging) were melancholic (depressive), and the four "SPs" (Sensing/Perceiving) were hypomanic (excitable). At the time (mid-1950s) Keirsey was mainly interested in the relationship between temperament and abnormal behavior, finding that Ernst Kretschmer and his disciple William Sheldon were the only ones who wrote about this relationship. Thus Keirsey discarded Myers' use of the Jungian function model and replaced it with Kretschmer's temperament model.

ADHD controversy

Keirsey's stance, regarding ADHD, has led him to count himself among the minority of clinical psychologists who believe that giving psychotropic stimulants to school boys, whose greater activity and/or distractable temperaments are considered disruptive to classroom proceedings, was not only unnecessary but harmful to these boys. Consequently, he acts as an ardent critic against what he sees as an "epidemic abuse of children", and claims to be successful in the management of such children by applying what he calls the "method of logical consequences" (see "Abuse it - Lose it" at [1]). Keirsey asserts that Attention Deficit Disorder was an altogether different matter, in that these children were inactive and paid no attention to the teacher's agenda, and that ADD was defined exclusively by stating what they do not do, and in no way defined their observable behavior. Thus, in his opinion, ADD was a misleading label assigned to children who ignore the teacher while bothering nobody, as do children who are actually disruptive. Since giving them stimulants made no sense, Keirsey refers to the current therapeutical practice of drugging inactive kids as "The Great ADD Hoax". Several of his statements, such as his warning to "make no mistake about the power of Ritalin to disable and eventually shrink the brain" ([2]), while valid to a certain point, are considered to be exaggerations by some and contradict most clinical studies, which are, however, often conducted or influenced by pharmaceutical industry. His main claim is that children with ADHD or ADD have an 'SP', or 'Artisan', temperament (concrete in thought and speech/utilitarian in implementing goals), though it is thought by most other people to resemble those with an 'NP' preference, particularly INTP. Keirsey does acknowledge, however, that those with an NP preference would be subject to frequent misdiagnosis, but the rare rate of NP in the population is insufficient to account for the high rate of ADHD diagnosis); the main types in the school population being SPs and SJs, (or those with (S)ensing preferences) the SPs are the ones that are going to be diagnosed. (See also the Controversy section in the main ADHD article)

See also



  • Keirsey,D. and Bates, M.(1978). Please Understand Me and the revised and expanded 3rd Ed.Prometheus Nemesis Book Company. ISBN 0960695400
  • Keirsey,D.(1998).Please Understand Me II. Prometheus Nemesis Book Company. ISBN 1885705026
  • Keirsey,D.(1998).Portraits of Temperament.3rd ed. Prometheus Nemesis Book Company.ISBN 0960695419
  • Keirsey,D., Milner,R. and Wood,V.(2004).The Temperament Discovery System.Advisor Team, Inc. ISBN 1885705042
  • Choiniere, R and Keirsey,D(1992).Presidential Temperament: The Unfolding of Character in the Forty Presidents of the United States.Prometheus Nemesis Book Company. ISBN 096069546X

Book Chapters


External links

  • - David Keirsey's homepage (includes comprehensive background on Keirsey temperament sorter)
  • - 'The Story of Isabel Briggs Myers', Center for Applications of Personality Type
  • - 'Sorting Temperaments: Psychologist David Keirsey ’47 believes there are four kinds of people in this world. You’re an Artisan, Guardian, Idealist or Rational. You’re born that way. And you’re OK.' (interview), Mark Kendall, Pomona Alumni Magazine
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