Recognition of the temperament features

Teachers Professional Skills Development in Special Education (30 cr) at JAMK
University of Applied Sciences, Jyväskylä
Author: Mikko Jämsä


I have been an SEN teacher for little bit more than six years, also we have two children the youngest of which is nineteen, and they have friends. So I have got some experience of bringing up young people. I have also made some observations in my classes and everyday life. To me it is obvious that it is not so easy for young people to understand themselves.In Luovi Vocational College we have an ongoing project ‘Mun reitti’ in which we are searching and making personal roads towards working life. In that project some methods to develop self-understanding and self-acceptance have been used and built up. One tool to develop self-understanding and self-acceptance is to use classification of temperaments, there are many of them. I have chosen the classification of nine features of temperament, presented by Keltikangas-Järvinen (2006). The context of temperaments is primary school in that book.

What is temperament

Let us start with an example by Keltikangas-Järvinen (15, 2006). Three children are learning to ride a bicycle. They are all eager to learn and, as yet, no-one can ride the bike. They are as talented as each other, their motorical processes are at the same level and they all have the same capacities to learn. They all have dad next to them when they are trying to ride the bike.

The first one takes the bike, tries to climb on and pushes the pedals. He does not listen to his father’s advice. He gets some speed and falls down. He does not mind and tries again. After a third try he leaves the bike and he is not interested in the whole thing any more. He has lost his self-confidence and there is nothing which will get him to try again. The second child is very interested in the bike. He observes it from every point. He listens carefully to all the advice and he is interested in every aspect of bicycling. He also falls when he tries the first time. But he tries again and again. He tries until his father asks him to stop and continue tomorrow. But he is still trying. He tries until he does not fall and then he cycles around the same little ring without being bored. The third boy stops when he sees the bike. He is curious but a little bit afraid. Then he approaches gently and slowly. Then he touched saddle and shiny metal and accidentally rings the bell – and jumps backwards. He must become familiar with the bike and after that he can start to try.

The previous example describes different sides of two temperament features – determination and fight or flight.

The features of temperaments are quite stabile and innate; they form the basis of the personality. Education, environment, cultural norms, expectations of community and values are also effective factors which affect the personality. Together those – and others – produce personal ways to behave and act. The features of temperament are visible and quite easy to observe. Those features are not good or bad – they just are. In some situations some feature is very beneficial, sometimes the same feature is challenging. Everyone has all features in their own combination. One’s environment sets some expectations for suitable temperaments in different situations. So it is very useful to understand one’s own way to act and behave. If one identifies her/his temperament features it is possible to find one’s own way to study and do other things. One can learn to benefit from their temperament.

In this development project we will make a simple form to explain the characteristics of the temperament and to identify them. The form should be very simple, because it should also be usable by those young students who have almost no idea of themselves. The formula has been tested in two groups of students. Some corrections have been made and the formula (in Finnish) has been included in the Mun reitti –tools. Most of the students said that the classification of temperament and identifying the features has helped them to understand themselves at least little bit.

Temperament features

Keltikangas-Järvinen (2006, Selina Selin 2006) introduces inter alia following temperament features, originally characteristics of features and form are made in Finnish but translated here:

Sensitivity, Activity, Flexibility, Sociability, Determination, Distractibility, Pedanticness, Fight or flight and Intensiveness

Sensitivity describes how one reacts to external stimulus. A highly sensitive person reacts very strongly. For example he/she notices even minor noise, difference in smell, taste or temperature. He or she also easily identifies other peoples’ mood and she/he is often socially talented. A lowly sensitive, or calm person is not bothered easily, she or he tolerates different and varying conditions. She/he can concentrate in spite of external disturbing stimulus. She/he does not identify moods of other people and sometimes seems to be impolite.

Activity can be seen as speed or the way how one starts new actions. A highly active person moves all the time, he/she is lively, even restless and becomes inspired easily. That is a specific way to act; it does not mean that he/she is very efficient. A person, who is not visibly active is slower and likes to act calmly, does not change interests all the time. Again it is question of a way to act – low activity does not mean, for example, inefficiency.

Flexibility describes how to react to new things and situations. A highly flexible person easily adopts new things and practices, even very unexpected changes are not irritating. A lowly flexible person respects all familiar and certain things and habits, changes are challenging. A lowly flexible person needs more time to adopt new things.
Sociability describes how a person is familiar with other persons. A social person likes to be with other people, he even finds companions. The opposite kind of person likes to be alone.

Determination describes how to complete one’s acts. A highly determined person likes to finish every activity. That feature can be seen as single-mindedness but may help in studying. A lowly determined person can easily change activities, but can also become frustrated easily. His/her challenge is absent mindedness.Distractibility describes how to continue actions. A highly distractible person gets interrupted easily because attention is easily directed elsewhere. She/he notices everything in the environment and has low concentration levels. A low distractible person does not notice anything when concentrating.A Pedantic person has a punctual inside chronometer, he/she sleeps and eats regularly and everyday life is systematic and organized. The actions of a low pedantic person are not predictable, he/she eats and sleeps when she/he feels the need, flexibility can help in social situations, but can also irritate.Fight or flight describes how the person reacts to new, sudden social situation, person or occasion. A fighting person hurries eagerly towards new things and experiences. The opposite type is a ‘flighting’ person who avoids new situations and things. When this happens in social situations, we call that person shy.

Intensiveness tells mostly about feelings. A highly intensive person seems to feel emotions strongly. She/he can be blaring and dramatic, deeply sorrowful and everyone notices her/his joy. A lowly intensive person can feel deeply too, but his/her expressions are quiet, peaceful and controlled, feelings cannot be seen.


Every temperament feature is characterized so that both ends are surely clear. The student marks what his/her opinion is about that special feature.

Before filling in the form the features were presented by PowerPoint presentation. First the feature was presented and then every student marked her/his opinion on their own form and then the next feature was presented and marked and so on.

Testing the form

The form has been tested in two student groups on 12.4.2010 (6 persons) and 13.4.2010 (13 persons). I also collected some feedback. The feedback questions were:

  1. Features of the temperaments were familiar to me
  2. I recognized new features in myself
  3. I recognized new strengths in myself
  4. The activity helps me to accept myself
  5. The activity was useful

According to the feedback the activity was not very successful; only seven students out of nineteen considered that activity was quite or very useful (Picture 2). On the other hand there were three persons who answered that the activity has helped them to recognize new strengths in them quite a lot. One person answered that after the activity she/he found quite many new strengths and also accepted her/himself quite much better.


Testing the formula indicated that the features of the temperaments were more familiar to students that I expected. For me it is a very good result that one person out of nineteen found quite many new strengths and also accepted themself quite a lot better.
It is possible that by making the temperament features more clear we can increase self-understanding. In the future it is also relevant to ask feature by feature how one feels about those features – is any particular feature a strength or a weakness. If one feels some of the features are weaknesses it is important to help that person to find the good side of that also.


Keltikangas-Järvinen, Liisa 2006. Temperamentti ja koulumenestys, Helsinki, WSOY
Selina Selin, 2006. Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen johdatteli temperamenttien maailmaan, Suomen Työterveyslääkäriyhdistys r.y.

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