Psychological Style Theories: What They Are, and Why They Matter

We all know that different people see the world differently. Sometimes we find those differences appealing. At other times, the differences between ourselves and others are an irritating source of conflict. But rarely, in either case, do we take the time to understand just what it is that accounts for the fundamental diversity of human perspectives.Psychological style theories were designed to help us make sense of this diversity by grouping people by commonalities according to their habits, behaviors, and priorities. This, in turn, can help us to increase our appreciation for the differences between ourselves and others and decrease the amount of conflict we experience as a result of these differences.Most style theories are based on the four temperaments that were introduced by Hippocrates, modified by Plato, and further developed by Galen – all before 190 AD. These four temperaments have been given many names along the way:

Hippocrates (370 BCE) called them Blood, Black Bile, Yellow Bile and Phelm (all such appealing labels from the father of medicine)
Plato (340 BCE) called them Artistic, Sensible, Intuitive, and Reasoning (labels for the thinking man)
Aristotle (325 BCE) called them Iconic, Pistic, Noetic, and Dianoetic (very philosophic)
Galen (190 AD) called them Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric, and Phlegmatic (another medical perspective)
Paracelsus (1550 AD) called them Salamanders, Gnomes, Nymph, and Sylphs (pioneer of chemicals and minerals in medicine…need we say more?)
Kretschmer (1920) called them Manic, Depressive, Oversensitive, and Insensitive (psychology creeps in)
Keirsey (1978) Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, Rational (the modern revision)

Many of the most popular assessments in use today describe a person’s psychological style as a mixture of attributes from each of the four basic types. Others use bi-polar continuums (e.g. feeling v. thinking, dominance v. compliance, rationalist v idealist, etc.) and describe style as the combination of an individual’s placement on each of these continuums. The use of combinations and continuums allows types to gently slide from one to the next, which allows people to believe that their psychological style is based on their situation, leaving them without an explanation to why they experience irreconcilable differences with others.

After all, if our psychological style can change from day to day, why do we keep encountering the same types of problems with the same types of people?

Our research with the Perceptual Style Theory (PST) supports a different understanding – that each person’s psychological style is innate and unchanging. This style describes who a person is in a fundamental way, rather than in a surface way that changes from one circumstance to the next. The six Perceptual Styles do not exist on a continuum in which one gradually slides into the next, but reflect six distinctly different perceptually based psychological experiences of the world, each supporting an incredible range of natural capacities, skills and abilities.

PST, by stating that each Perceptual Style represents a unique perceptual experience, provides an individual with an opportunity to understand the differences between people without judgment. Those differences are real, meaning they truly reflect differences in how the world is perceived, and acknowledging them tends to lead people to an increased understanding and appreciation of different points of view. This also helps avoid the need to view people’s differences as due to stupidity or stubbornness, or as just plain wrong.

Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 27 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley. He is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary psychological assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their deepest potentials for success. He’s a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents. For free information on how to succeed as an entrepreneur or coach, create a thriving business and build your bottom line doing more of what you love, visit

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