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Neurolinguistic programming: temperament and character types

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:0306206
  1. Joanne Walter, master practitioner of the American Board of Neurolinguistic Programming1,
  2. Ardeshir Bayat, specialist registrar in plastic surgery and MRC fellow2
  1. 1Transgenomic, The Quadrangle, Crewe Hall, Weston Road, Crewe, Cheshire, CW1 6UZ
  2. 2University of Manchester, Stopford Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT

Knowing what personality type you are can benefit you and your appreciation of others; Joanne Walter and Ardeshir Bayat explain this and more about neurolinguistic programming

In our first article we explained the background to neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and concentrated on relating tools within the discipline that could be used to improve communication.1

Now we want to explain how knowing about temperament and character types may help us understand the personality differences that we encounter in everyday life, which might lead to an improved understanding of our individual strengths and weaknesses, why we consciously behave in the way we do, and why we have chosen one particular professional or personal role. This also means that we should be able to determine if the precise career we have chosen in medicine is in fact the most appropriate for our individual skill set and character type. Obtaining information about character and temperament may allow you to make more informed decisions about future job changes and the progression of your career.

Determining a character type

There are many specialties in medicine and individual niches in the health service. It is important for job satisfaction that you ultimately spend time in the role that you find most fulfilling. Do you ever feel that your skills are underused? Do you ever think that maybe life might be more rewarding if you had a different job? Understanding your temperament and character type may unlock a whole range of career possibilities for you.

Although people may be driven by similar instincts, we are different in many fundamental ways. Several different tests have been devised to categorise people according to differing personality traits. One popular system is the Myers-Briggs type indicator, which assigns 16 major patterns of action to the population. It was developed in the 1950s by Isabel Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs ( The full test allows accurate temperament typing but, like many test of its type, is too long to publish here. A similar test, the Keirsey temperament sorter, is easily available (

To give you a quick way of identifying individual character types, we have devised a new test (fig 1), which we have shown to give the same results as other more established regimes. Simply answer the four questions and use the answer key outlined in figure 2 to find the four individual words that best describe your character. It is usual practice to take the first letter from each word to form a short code summarising your character type (external, sensor, thinker, judger becomes ESTJ for example). In this way the results from this test can be cross-referenced to other similar tests for more in depth character assessment than we have space to describe here.2

Personality assessment

Please circle the answer for each question (a or b) that you agree with most.

  1. On attending a party or gathering involving interaction with lots of people which of the following phrases is a description of you?

    • a) Energised and excited

    • b) Tired and withdrawn

  2. If employing someone for a job would you be more impressed by their:

    • a) Past experience

    • b) Idears for the future

  3. Are you ruled by your:

    • a) Head

    • b) Heart

  4. When going on holiday do you prefer to:

    • a) Plan your itinerary carefully

    • b) Leave your options open


Personality typing quiz and answers (below)


Words and character traits commonly associated with the four broad personality types

There are four broad categories of personality (character) that can be combined in 16 different ways. Words describing these four main types are given in figure 3. An individual will rarely be 100% of one type but rather will show a type preference. In addition, the classification assigned to someone at the age of 20 does not necessarily reflect the same preferences they have later in life. We evolve constantly through our experiences of life, and so our personality and character develop and change.

External behaviour

The first personality classification is based on “external behaviour,” according to whether a person is “introverted” or “extroverted.” Extroverts are sociable and energised by contact with people, whereas introverts are more solitary and territorial. Extroverts account for 75% of the population, in comparison to 25% that are more introverted by preference.3 However, this population bias towards extroversion may be the result of Western culture, where it is seen as unfriendly and unsociable to prefers one's own company to the crowd.

Internal process

The second type is based on “internal process,” whether a person is “sensitive” or “intuitive.” A sensitive person (75% of the population3) pays attention to detail, thinks practically, and values facts and actual experience. Intuitive persons (25% of the population) are more likely to have their head in the clouds and be thinking about future ideas that they may or may not follow through.


Artwork of neural sensory overload

Internal state of mind

The third type is based on the “internal state of the mind,” whether a person predominantly thinks or feels. “Feeling” persons appreciate the personal approach and will make judgments in line with their personal values whereas “thinking” persons are more impersonal, logical, and objective. Interestingly this is the only one of the four broad categories to show on sex related distribution--more men than women will fall into the thinking category.3

Temporal operator mode

The last type is based on the “temporal operator mode,” whether a person has a preference for “judging” or “perceiving.” Judgers and perceivers are split equally throughout the population and between men and women.3 A person with a preference for judging will typically be happy to reach closure on a decision and believes that deadlines are to be strictly adhered to if at all possible. By contrast, perceivers will often have difficulty reaching a decision and will always have felt that it would have been good to gather more data before a decision is made--they like to keep their options open and deadlines are flexible.

Making use of this information

The combinations of these four types in any one person describe their individual character. The mixing of the individual personality traits in one individual leads to 16 different character types. (For those interested in reading about this in more detail, we recommend reading reference 2.)

Know yourself

The first step to making use of all this information is to understand our own individual character type. From this, we may be able to assess our strengths and weaknesses, which may lead to a better appreciation of why we are better at some things than others.

Following on from this, knowing our character type may help us understand what would be our most appropriate role or career in life fully to use our talents and bring maximum enjoyment. For example, if you are a more introverted person you may not feel happy having a role better suited to an extroverted person, and, similarly, a role empathising with people and their feelings may be less well suited to someone who is better at interpreting hard facts.

Improve your interaction with others

Knowing about and appreciating different types of people may explain and improve our interaction with others, from family and friends to work colleagues and patients. In these latter two categories it may help to explain (in conjunction with differing communication types1) why we have a better relationship with some people than with others. For example, maybe you find it annoying that you seem happy to be able to reach decisions quickly (judger), whereas a colleague seems to want to discuss the options endlessly (perceiver). A patient may need to know all the facts about what treatment they are going to receive in detail (sensitive) whereas the doctor may want to focus on how this treatment will make the patient better in the future (intuitive).


Boring perhaps, but life would be easier both personally and professionally if we were all the same. However, once we realise that we are all different, we can adapt where necessary to gain the maximum positive benefit from all our interactions with people.


Originally published as: Student BMJ 2003;11:206


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