Dr. William Sheldon ~
It should be noted that this Constitutional psychology theory, largely attributable to Dr. William Sheldon, has somewhat fallen from
acceptance and favor. Nevertheless it may be that some faint glimmers of truth are to be appreciated from a consideration of what
Dr. Sheldon himself accepted about human personality traits and temperament types.
personality traits and
Dr. William Sheldon (1898-1977) was an American psychologist who
during his career held teaching and research posts
at a number of Universities in the United States.
Much of Dr. William Sheldon's professional life was devoted to investigating the range human personality
traits or temperament types.
Dr. Sheldon was particularly active in which field of study during the 1940s and eventually came to hold that
there were three major human personality
traits which he called Viscerotonia, Somatotonia,
and Cerebrotonia. These personality traits, Sheldon came to believe, bore a direct relationship with each of
three human body types ( or Somatypes ) which he called Endomorphy, Mesomorphy and Ectomorphy.
Through a meticulous examination of the carefully posed (front
view, side view, and back view) photographs of some four
thousand, decently but scantily clothed, college-age, men Sheldon
became persuaded that there were three fundamental elements that,
in various proportions, contributed to each person's actual
physique or somatype.
He conjectured that there might well be some relationship
between these elements and the three layers of the human embryo -
the endoderm, the mesoderm and the ectoderm - and consequently
gave the three elements that he held as contributing to ALL human
physiques the names Endomorphy, Mesomorphy and
He devised ways of standardising the measurement and numerical
expression of the various degrees to which each of the three
elements was present in any individual person's physique.
He came to see:-
as being focussed on the digestive system, particularly the
as being focussed on musculature and the circulatory
as being focussed on the nervous system and the brain.
A graphical representation of such body-typism!
Attribution in relation to the above image : "Bodytypes" by Granito Diaz - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
As his theorising continued Dr.Sheldon came to recognise that individual human beings
would all possess stomachs, muscles, and nervous systems, but
would also differ, more or less, in the inherent focus of their
bodies towards their stomachs, their muscles, or their nervous
He accepted that, in any population, there would be a few
extreme Endomorphs, a few extreme Mesomorphs, and a few extreme
He saw extreme Endomorphic physiques as being rounded and
tending towards fleshiness. He discovered that extreme
Endomorphic body types are endowed with a far longer digestive
tract than extreme Ectomorphic body types.
He saw extreme Mesomorphic physiques as being large, bony, and
tending towards a substantial and well-defined musculature.
He saw extreme Ectomorphic body types as being light-boned and
tending towards a slightness of musculature.
He also conducted a large number of surveys directed towards
the investigation of whether there was any identifiable link
between physique and temperament type. Sheldon's surveys led him
consider that there were three basic temperament types or human
personality traits that he labelled Viscerotonia, Somatotonia,
He saw extreme Viscerotonia as being associated with a love of
relaxation and of comfort. Extreme Viscerotonics tend to be
sociable "food and people" persons.
He saw extreme Somatonia as being associated with physical
assertiveness. Extreme Somatotonics tend to be very keen on
physical activity. Extreme Somatotonics also tend to be keen on physical
competition in which they tend to expect to do well.
He saw extreme Cerebrotonia as being associated with a
pronounced need for privacy. Extreme Cerebrotonics tend to be
highly self-aware and socially restrained.
He considered that there was a strong correlation between body
type and temperament type. According to this view human
personality traits are underwritten, as it were, by human
physical types. Extreme Endomorphs tend towards Viscerotonia,
extreme Mesomorphs towards Somatotonia, and extreme Ectomorphs
Whilst Sheldon wrote several books on the variety of human
temperament types / human personality traits these seem to be out
Whilst it should be again noted that this Constitutional psychology theory, largely attributable to Dr. William Sheldon, has largely fallen from
acceptance and favor, a case can nevertheless be hesitantly made that, in a search for faint glimmers of "psychological truth" an
association can be made between Dr.
William Sheldon's work and the work of other psychologists - not
least the work of Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas
the area of child psychology in New York Chess and Alexander
ultimately went on to classify the temperament types of their
young charges as variously being "easy", "difficult", and "slow
to warm up".
N.B. Although differences in temperament do exist, they may not be as associated with body-typism as Dr. Sheldon suggested.
It is widely known that Plato, pupil of and close friend to Socrates, accepted that Human
Beings have a "Tripartite Soul" where individual Human Psychology is composed of three aspects -
Wisdom-Rationality, Spirited-Will and Appetite-Desire.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) was, in his time, the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. He remains widely influential
to this day through his essays, lectures, poems, and philosophical writings.
In the later eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson read, and was very significantly influenced by, a work by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin.
A key section of Cousin's work reads as follows:
"What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human nature.
There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity,
and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. …
… Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the
nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations."
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1829)
Even before he had first read Cousin, (in 1829), Emerson had expressed views in his private Journals which suggest that he accepted that Human Nature, and Human Beings, tend to display three identifiable aspects and orientations:
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness.
(Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)
In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization.
(Journal entry of December, 1824)
Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found all day long at their books …
(This dates from January - February, 1828)
The quotes from Emerson are reminiscent of a line from another "leading voice of intellectual culture" - William Shakespeare.
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Pt 1), Act I, Scene II
"The first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents;
and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions."
Georg Hegel, 1770-1831, German philosopher, The Philosophy of History (1837)