Age of the Sage site banner

Dr. William Sheldon on
Constitutional psychology

Dr. William Sheldon ~
personality traits and
temperament types

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.

page content divider


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 Ectomorphy.

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 stomach.


as being focussed on musculature and the circulatory system.


as being focussed on the nervous system and the brain.

page content divider


A graphical representation of such body-typism!

A picture of three Bodytypes by Granito Diaz, showing representations of Mesomorphy, Endomorphy and Ectomorphy


Attribution in relation to the above image : "Bodytypes" by Granito Diaz - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

page content divider


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 systems.

He accepted that, in any population, there would be a few extreme Endomorphs, a few extreme Mesomorphs, and a few extreme Ectomorphs.

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, and Cerebrotonia.

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 towards Cerebrotonia.

Whilst Sheldon wrote several books on the variety of human temperament types / human personality traits these seem to be out of print.

page content divider


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

Working in 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.

page content divider


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.

Plato, Socrates and Shakespeare endorse a Tripartite Soul view of Human Nature. Platos' Republic