Thursday, October 9, 2014

Birth Order and The Four Temperaments

Thursday's Theories: Temperament and Birth Order

Last week's Theorist Thursday was Eric Erikson (click here to catch up on that post).  He was a psychoanalysts by training and practice, and one of the fathers of Lifespan Human Development.  We are going to swing the pendulum today and go astray from modern psychology and talk about the Four Temperaments and Birth Order both. I am lumping them together for a longer post because they are both Birth Order and Temperament theory are outside of mainstream developmental psychology.  I am including them however because they really resonate with real life folks!  I recently I talk about them in my second podcast (Click here to go to the podcast) with This Inspired Life.    

Temperaments are considered an innate part of our composition.  Although they could endure secondary modifications, they are rooted in our physiology.
  I recently read the book Divergent* as a preview for my son.  That post-appolocyptic story is all about a culture where people are 'stuck' in one of 5 lifestyles (or factions) according to their basic temperaments.  This is not a new concept.  Fascination with temperament date back to Ancient Greece, and remained a dominant way of describing and explaining personality before modern psychology emerged in the 1900s.  

The Four-Temperaments

In Ancient Greece, the Four Temperaments, were called Humour Theory.  The theory was widely popular and is really the first personality theory we have on record.  Hippocrates (460? - 377? B.C.) theorized that behavior was determined by the presence of 4 types of biological substances.  These fluids or biles, varied in their color and were associated with the 4 elements of earth, air, fire, and water. 

Color                                 Name                                    Element

Yellow                       Chlor  or  Choleric                            Fire
Red                            Sangis or Sanguine                           Air
White                         Plegm  or  Phlegmatic                       Water
Black                         Melan  or Melancholy                        Earth

 The word temperament comes from the Latin Temperamentum “right blending”.   If you had too much of one of the humor you had a particular behavior.  Everyone was theorized to have a blend of these elements. 

About 600 years after Hippocrates, The Greek physician Galen coined the terms Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Melancholy.    Fast forward to the 1900s and we get some scientific data on this subject when Emotions of Normal People (1928) was published by William Marston. In this research, Marston studied the emotions of normal people and identified 35 words or phrases that characterized people into the 4 groups when faced with an emotional response to good or bad situations.  Marstons work was built upon by the likes of Halsbey and LaHaye (who brought it into popular Christian communities), as well as Geier, Eysenck, and others. 

Although the notion that behaviors are caused by excess body fluids was not correct, their observations of the characteristics of these four temperaments has remained and for centuries was a primary way of discussing personality.  Modern developmental psychology does not have much reverence for temperament theories in general and consider them to be a psyudo-science, yet they do have a place in history and have influenced how we think about the person, choosing to emphasizes the 'traits' of a person rather than a 'type' of person.   

Outside of developmental psychology,  some areas of education (for instance Waldorf approach) find value in seeking to understand a child's temperament.  The Church too, has found that understanding the temperaments can be helpful in guiding the individual to grow in holiness.  When one is able to recognize that s/he has a tendency toward sins of a certain nature, then the individual is better able to combat those sins.  

Each stage in life is more easily associated with a specific temperament, so we should recognize that as we grow and develop.  Although we may have some general leanings or tendencies that are inherent to us, we will continue to change throughout life.   As parents, it is important that we don't pin our children into one the of the four temperaments, but rather recognize our children's tendencies can be a great thing.  We should work to foster those positive qualities and work to suppress or eliminate the negative qualities.  

For more on the Four Temperaments see Rev. Conrad Hock's book The Four Temperaments. It includes an assessment at the end of the book and is available to read online thought the Angelicum Academy (here) . 

Birth Order

There is not much support for birth order in the research community, but birth order has a huge following in popular culture because it just rings true.  There are so many variations and influences to how we parent that studying this topic 'scientifically' is really tough.  My two favorite people who do study birth order are Kevin Leman and Frank Sulloway.

Dr. Sulloway is actually a historian of science.  I loved his book, Born to Rebel (Sulloway, 1996) in which he examined the theory that researchers who challenged established views tended to be later borns, while those who support the status quo tended to be firstborns.  I mention Sulloway, because although he is not a psychologist, he provided some solid evidence that sociologists had been seeking. 

Kevin Leman is the foremost author on Birth Order.  He is now in his 70's, has written 48 books on the topic, and continues to write and speak nationwide.  Sidebar-  I met him a few weeks ago and tried to get him to come on over to give me a little advice on my little blog but nothing yet from the big man.   Leman draws not from scientific research, but rather from his interactions with families over his lifetime as a practicing psychologist, counselor, father, and grandfather.

According to Leman, you have four basic types, and then variations within this according to gender and  years between siblings.   For instance, if you are a second-born and the first of your gender, you will have some First-Born characteristics.  Similarly, if there is a large space between you and your siblings you will have more First-born characteristics.  

The First-borns are generally your CEO types - they are perfectionists, reliable, organized, serious, and local.  Your Middle-Children are generally diplomatic, loyal to peers, secretive, have lots of friends, and act as mediators.  They are the psychologists of the family.  Your Later-borns are more rebellious, they have a tendency to be charming and tenacious people-persons, but also to blame others and be manipulative.  They excel at sales jobs.  Your Only-Children are like 'super first borns'.  They are deliberate, self-motivated, cautious, fear failure, have high expectations of self, and tend to see the world in black and white.  

So why is this the case? I go into it is greater detail in my post Created Equal for Sure but Not Treated as Such (click here).  Basically, I argue that much of the differences in traits according to birth order have to be attributed to the fact that our kids are growing up in different environments.  Even twins, whose environments are very similar, are going to have different relationships with their parent.  That dyadic interaction influences the child's very development.  Same family and same house, but different interactions.

It is impossible to break apart the genetic part from the environment part.  As David Moore points out in his book The Dependent Gene: The fallacy of nature vs nurture, every gene must be expressed in an environment, and it is impossible to tease apart the influence of the gene from the influence of the environment.  We see this in pregnancy so clearly - we are soooo careful about everything we do or eat, because we want to make sure that environment is optimal for that developing child.  And little blips in the environment, not enough folic acid, or exposure to various toxins, can influence our little ones on the cellular level.  

And what does this mean for our parenting?  Much like with the temperaments, identifying some of the natural tendencies of our children can be very helpful in eliminating some of our parenting frustrations.  This happens in two ways.  First, we can see that there are universalities in certain behaviors and just take a deep breath.  For instance your later born is probably going to be more laid back than your first born.  Your second born may really need more play-dates than your first born and so on.   Also though, you can work to target certain unpleasant tendencies that may surface because of birth order and the roles our children occupy in our family.  For instance, if we know first borns have a tendency to be high-strung we can be on the lookout for that and work harder to help them learn how to relax.

One specific way birth order has helped my husband and I to understand and appreciate our kids better, is to think about those qualities we each have that our children also have.  I can see some first born qualities that I love in my husband and look for those those same qualities in my eldest son.  My husband can identify some characteristics in our middle children that I also have (since I am a middle child), and we can just laugh about those.  Sometimes there are things that make us crazy in our kids, but they are qualities that we value in adults around us - stubborn becomes tenacious when it is a trait we find in our spouse!  

I look at developmental science as a place to gather data about how people develop.  If we can learn a little about our children or ourselves from temperament theory and birth order, then we have more data by which to make parenting decisions.  I hope this has helped you to better understand your loved ones.  

Thanks for stoping by! 

My Oldest, the Baby, and the Middle (before the real baby came along) 
I love this photo because their personalities are so clear at even this young age! 

* Divergent - although I enjoyed the mindless read, I found the book to be too  'love sick' for my 11-year-old son who has NO interest in the opposite sex and still closes his eyes when there is a kiss on TV.  There was just too much talk about sexual tension.  The movie strangely enough seemed to be more tame in this area.   I let him watch the movie with me and he closed his eyes for the one long kiss and thought it was Okay. 

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