Psychological classifications

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Classification is one of the basic devices used by psychologists for the description of distinctions between people. The problem of finding the essencial grounds for the classification psychological types, that is the grounds determing a more broad spectrum of derivative characteristics has always been crucial for the differential psychology.

Historical background

The logic of development of classification hypotheses in psychology

The entire history of human studies from the system-classification position reveals itself as arena of struggle of two opposite methodological directions, the goals of which were:

1) to "catch" the central organizing link, some kind of the motor of all design, and to distribute people by the qualitative specificity of these central links;

«The typological approach consists in the global perception of the person with the following reduction of variety of individual forms to a small number of the groups uniting around the representative type» (Meili, 1960).

2) to decompose the psychic to its components in order to understand the work of parts and to create a classification on the basis of differences in the structure and quality of parts.

«It is necessary to reduce all the personality character traits to the elementary mental elements and to the elementary forms of the basic psychological laws, revealing the nature of the discovered ties» (Polan, 1894).

At present there are several thousand of various psychological classifications that point to these or other distinctions between people or mental characteristics as such.

The classifications may have different ground scales of generalizations, degree of inner strictness.

Classification of people and classification of psychological charachteristics

The logic of psychological classifications development demanded parallel existing of two scientific approaches: one of which was named «psychology of types», and the other — «psychology of traits». In the course of time both the approaches shifted towards each other: the psychology of types - in attempts to understand the structure of psychological traits of every type, trait psychology - in attempts to achieve more high and system generalizations.

«As soon as the fact that the observable traits do not corresponds to separate essential psychic characteristics and rather are only aspects of the personality and behavior, received general recognition immediately appeared the necessity to reveal the fundamental factors behind the traits. Haimans and Virsma as well as other scientists after them tried to solve the problem. However all these researches had a fragmentary character, their results have been caused by preliminary hypotheses, and the choice of traits as a rule was determined by the personal view of the researcher» R.Maili с.228

An example of trait psychology development (stages):

  1. Singling out the types of love as psychology of traits. In the Antique time the typology of love kinds was very popular, which comprised:
  • Eros – a passionate physical and emotional love based on aesthetic enjoyment; stereotype of romantic love
  • Ludus – a love that is played as a game or sport; conquest
  • Storge – an affectionate love that slowly develops from friendship, based on similarity ( kindred to Philia )
  • Pragma – love that is driven by the head, not the heart; undemonstrative
  • Mania – highly volatile love; obsession; fueled by low self-esteem
  • Agape – selfless altruistic love; spiritual; motherly love
  1. Every person, as a rule, possesses all the possible types of love, but in different proportion. Which can be expressed by the profile characteristic with ups and downs.
  1. The Types of people with similar profile characteristics combined into classification of higher level.

The example of type psychology development (stages):

  1. Singling out groups of people that have obvious dominate of conscious cognitive operations — "Rationals" or unconscious operation out — "Irrationals".
  2. Pick out the specific cognitive abilities connected with rationality and irrationality.
  3. A network for the profile characteristic is worked out which is typical for rationals and irrationals.

In the course of development of psychological as a science and practice understanding comes that human is «microcosm» which has all traits properties and characteristics but they are distributed according to certain systemic lows, which should be yet discovered.

The scale of system of psychological types


Systems of views about the material and and mental world based on principles of harmony, common universal laws of the nature and mind, have greatest scale and orderliness. Everything including the principle of psychological classification, has mathematical accuracy and clearness. The typology has the subordinated role, it reflects the natural belonging to cosmic laws.

Example: Psycosmology

Formal typologies

Classifications that included stabil types singled out on the basis of some psychological or anatomo-physiological traits refer to formal typologies. The formal typology may have quote varies scale. Often these are typologies on the basies of behavior particulares in certain activity.

Example: Witkin in 1954 singled out the types of people as field dependent and field independent. The field dependent do not see a simple figure in a complex geometrical background. The field independent can single out the figure from complex geometrical background.

Dynamic typologies

The dynamic typologies are connected with change and transformations of people, with doing through stages in their development (biological, psychological, social).

Example: From the psychoanalytical point of view, the child in her development undergoes in a number of psychosexual stages which creates a particular make up of soul and mind, being a sort of psychological type.

The man in the development is viewed as an autoerotic creature that receives sensual pleasure from stimulation of erogenic zones of the body by the parents or other people during the process of reazing. Freud believed that for every such stage there is a particular erogenic zone.

The man goes through certain stadies in the development of self-consciousness in the search of Self. Karl Jung considered the Self to be a central archetype, the one of order and wholeness of personality. Jung called ability of man to self-cognition and self-development as individuation confluence of her/his conscious and unconscious. The first stage of the individuation is the aquisition of the element in the structure of the personality psychic called - person or mask hiding the real self and the unconscious, called the shadow. So the second stage of the individuation is awareness of the shadow. The third stage is meeting still other components of psychic – called Anima and Animus. The last stage of individuation – development of the Self, that becomes the new center of soul. It brings unity and integrates a conscious and unconscious material. All the mentioned stages intersect. The man constantly and repeatedly returns to old problems. Individuation may be depicted as a spiral in which the man continues once and again deal with the same fundamental problems, each time in a more subtle form.

Modeling of systems of psychological types

In modeling of psychological systems the systematization and classification play a very important role. With the development of statistics in the description of weight of the trait (or type) in society character of the trait (type) distribution is very important. It is also important, if the distinctions of trait have a quantitative or qualitative character for the adequate interpretation of practically every research in the field of differential psychology understanding of certain fundamental statistical concepts is required. "There are at least three various theories of the psychological types worked out by psychologists. Some authors represent types as separate classes that exclued each other. Some others psychologists accept the theory of types as more or less detailed trait theory, defining the types as poles of one and same continuum between which people may be ranked by the law of normal distribution. The adepts of the third view believe that the types differ from the traits by having multimodal distributions in which the people are grouped with in definit points, representing pure types". Stagner, 1948.

Distribution of the traits

The more distribution is fundamental and doesn't depend on cultural factors. The majority of measuring instruments (tests) are constructed so that the trait could be normalised with the normal distribution term, if distinctions have quantitative character. For instants, the traits which enter the base of personality named the Big five have normal distribution.

Example: the Exstra-introversion. The majority of people have ambivert characteristics on this scale.

Strict sets

If characteristics have not quantitative, but qualitative distinctions they are usually described as strict sets.

Example: Righthanders, lefthanders. The deaf and hearing. Types by Jung in socionics.

Nonstrict sets

It is very seldom that a certain quality is stably absent absolutely in psychic. Therefore, in most cases, it is useful to use mild classifications which reflect real character of distribution more precisely.

Example: Typology by E.Krechmer or W.Sheldon.

Complex models

More complex and systematization models take into account the fact that may meet both quantitative, and qualitative distinctions of traits. The distributions of these traits as clear connections may form types which in term have enough strict and steady distribution in society.

Example: Psycosmology model in a context of general, typological and individual.

System classifications

The system classifications proceeded from the postulate that whole is not a sum of the parts, but is a system of higher organization. The basis of classification often was searched for in laws of Universe functioning. The properties of classification: strictness (everyone belongs to one and only one class and remains in it for the whole life), quantity of classes is determined by laws of the Universe, the organization of psychic is a part of the more general system of functioning of the Universe. Examples: Astrological (Egypt, Babylon, Greece, the Classical antiquity), astro-musical system of types (India).

«The foundation of development of practices, known nowadays as“ the western astrology ”, was the Mesopotamic astrology whereas the Chinese tradition became a core of systems so-called " Eastern astrology ”. As to astrological systems of Mesoamercan indians and druids, they haven't survived till present time in the living tradition and are now reconstructed only some with some degree of autencity. Original astrological systems arose, probably, in other regions of the world as well, but they were quite regional (astrology of inks or original Javano-Balyiskian astrology, based on a “vuku” calendar». Denis Kutalyov. Astrology as historical and cultural phenomenon.

An interesting development of this idea can be found in Johann Kepler's works which really continued the traditions of astro-musical systems, having joined physical and mental laws in the theory of resonance.

Johann Kepler and his Cosmology

«In his exposition astrology became similar to the physical theory of resonance. The stars themselves do not influence the destiny of people, but the soul of man at the moment of a birth imprinted the angles between the stars and the following life reacted to them in specific ways“. Ju.A.Danilov Harmony and an astrology in Kepler's works.

A somewhat different approach to problems of astrological knowledge can be observed in Karl Jung's works. Astrology, as Jung believed, – “is the top of all psychological knowledge in antiquity”, the gist of which is in imprinting the symbolical configurations in the form of collective unconscious. “Astrology as collective unconscious to which the psychology addresses, consists of symbolical configurations:“ planets ”are Gods, the symbols of power unconscious” [Semira, Vetash, 1994, p. 13].

Domination of one of the four cognitive functions (thinking, emotion, sensation or intuition) builds up the ground the basis for the classification K. Jung on the basis of his great clinical experience. Upgreating of this typology was done by Aushra Augustinovichute (socionics) and I. Myers-Briggs with her mother K. Briggs.

Specific classifications

The classification more often touched upon the characteristics connected with sphere of social interaction. They were build as a set of bipolar traits in which the dominant of certain trait made accent in character of man. The characteristics of specific classifications are: the absence of a clear borders between classes, the man can pass from one class in another under the influence of the external and internal reasons, the number of classes depends on position of the author of classification.

Examples: Socially-characterological (Theophrastus), sociopolitical (Plato).

The Characters by Theophrastus deserves a separate mention. The work contains thirty brief, vigorous and trenchant outlines of moral types, which form a most valuable picture of the life of his time, and in fact of human nature in general.

According to Plato, a state made up of different kinds of souls will, overall, decline from an aristocracy (rule by the best) to a timocracy (rule by the honorable), then to an oligarchy (rule by the few), then to a democracy (rule by the people), and finally to tyranny (rule by one person, rule by a tyrant) One of the first typology of man, based on his values is Plato's typology. Plato singled out following types:

1) aristocratic characterized by dominant of the higher side of soul, aspiration to true search;

2) timocratic characterized by strong development of ambition and inclanation to struggle;

3) oligarchic characterized by greedeness, many grubberness, restraint and thrift;

4) democratic characterized by moral instability, and aspiration to constant change of sensual pleasures;

5) tyrannic characterized by dominant of lowest animal attraction.

The specific classifications are often build by practical workers on the basis of concrete activity. Within any activity one can find many very different classifications.

Mixed classifications

The characteristics of the classifications: combination of strictness and flexibility. There are laws of Universe, which determine strict classifications and there are earthly laws which act on another level, not destroying the strict classification, and creating variations within one class, contributing the system flexibility. The man as a part entered more general systems - the Universe, the Society. However the man himself was an independent system with his own inner world, with his contradictions, unique way of life and expirience, a disposition and levels of development of inner selves. The philosophers looked upon the man from a far distance, doctors had to see the particulars his physical and psychical organization.

The typology of Hippocrates found in every reader, become a combination of the theoretical ideas and practical methods. Remaining on the positions of cosmologists concerning the nature of human soul, he raised the questions about the structure and functioning of different psychical and physical organizations of the social man and developed the typology of temperaments.

Contemporary systemic classifications are represented by works of Karl Jung, Hans Eysenck, Ludmila Sobchik, Leonid Dorfman, Nataliya Nagibina and others. The authors of contemporary systematic conceptions try to generalize as much as possible results of empirical researches of individual characteristic of man within the frameworks of one typological model. Such model, as a rule, is the center of the construction uniting the general, typological and individual psychological characteristics of man. As examples of such systematic classification may serve the Theory of leading tendencies by Ludmila Sobchik, Psycosmology by Nataliya Nagibina, the Concept of the meta-individual world by Leonid Dorfman.

The theory of leading tendencies L.N. Sobchik (scheme)

The theory of leading tendencies layed in the basis of methodology of psychodiagnostical research, allows to understand the complex construct of personality in all its completeness. According to this theory, the integral image of the personality includes emotional sphere, individual style of cognition, the type of interpersonal behavior, strength and direction of motivation. The comparative analysis of the psychodiagnostical indicators received in succesive studies of different levels of self-consciousness ( objective unconscious, actual-subjective and ideal "Self"), reveals the zone of the inner conflict, level of self-understanding and ability of the individual to self-control ". L.N. Sobchik. Psychology of Individuality. 2005, p. 15

Selection of classificational grounds

The theoretical analysis and the empirical verification of the classificational systems of psychic have been undertaken by a number of authors in the XX-th century (K.Jung, H.Eysenck, R.Meily, V.S. Merlin, L.N.Sobchik, L.Ja.Dorfman, E.P.Ilyin, N.L.Nagibina and others).

Bodily and formal-dynamic characteristics as grounds for classification


These classifications are more often used by the clinical psychologists and the psychiatrists.

Example: The Hippocratic school held that four humours: blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm consists the basis for the four types of temperaments.

Example: Kretschmer's classification system was based on three main body types: asthenic/leptosomic (thin, small, weak), athletic (muscular, large–boned), and pyknic (stocky, fat). (The athletic category was later combined into the category asthenic/leptosomic.) Each of these body types was associated with certain personality traits and, in a more extreme form, psychopathologies.

Example: American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon associats body types with human temperament types.Sheldon proposed that the human physique be classed according to the relative contribution of three fundamental elements, somatotypes, named after the three germ layers of embryonic development: the endoderm, (develops into the digestive tract), the mesoderm, (becomes muscle, heart and blood vessels), and the ectoderm (forms the skin and nervous system).

Sheldon's "somatotypes" and their supposed associated physical traits can be summarized as follows:

Ectomorphic: characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; receding chin, usually referred to as slim.

Mesomorphic: characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular.

Endomorphic: characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat.

Cognitive characteristics as grounds for classification

Cognitive characteristics as grounds for classification become very popular in XX centuary.

Table 1. Some examples of classifications on the ground of concrete kinds of getting and processing informations.

Karl Jung
Classificational graund Interpretation Authors
Analitical (differentiating) /Sintetical (integrating) Analitical show the tendency for perceiving separate parts and properties having difficulties in catching the whole structures oriented on distinctions. Syntetic perceive the phenomena as integrated whole, seeing the similarities in the parts. Gottshald, 1914

Roschach, 1921

Thinkers / Artists Thinkers have as dominating the second signal system. Artists have as dominating the first signal system Pavlov, 1927
Objectivists / Subjectivists The objectivists are characterized by steady, narrowly directed and precise perception. The subjectivists are characterized by more broad perception field with subjective interpretation, supplementing perception.

Angyal, 1948
Rationals / Irrationals Rationals have fir their main leading function conscious logical thinking. Irrationals have for their main leading unconscious sensations and intuitive thinking.

Jung, 1902

Values and motivational characteristics as grounds for personality classifications

The sphere of personality values and senses is situated at the crossing point of two large areas of psychic: motivation on one side and the world outlooking structure on the other. The sphere of values and senses with its unique picture of the world is the core of personality. Most bright psychological ideas concerning the sphere values and senses are presented in the work of E.Fromm, M. Rokeach, A.Maslow and others.

For example, M.Rokeach treats the values as a kind of steady conviction that a certain goal or way of living is more preferable than some other. The human values are characterized by the following main properties:

1.The whole number of values of a person is relatively small.

2.All people have the same values, although in different degrees.

3.The values are organized in systems.

4.The sources of human values can be tracked down in culture, society and its institutions etc.

5.The influence of the values can be traced practically in all social phenomena, deserving studying.

M.Rokeach distinguishes two classes of values – terminal and instrumental. He defines the terminal values as convictions that a certain final goal in individual life (for instance, happy family life, peace in the whole world) from the personal and the social point of view is worth to be pursued. The instrumental values are beliefs that a certain way of performance (for instant, honesty, rationalism) is from personal and social points of view preferable in any situations. In fact, the distinction between the terminal and instrumental values coincides with already existing, rather traditional differentiations of values-goals and values means. The system of personality values orientation as well as any psychological system can be represented as “multidimentional dynamic space”.

Example: Eric Fromm describes the ways an individual relates to the world and constitutes his general character, and develops from two specific kinds of relatedness to the world: acquiring and assimilating things ("assimilation"), and reacting to people ("socialization"). These orientations describe how a man has developed in regard to how he responds to conflicts in his or her life; he also considered that people were never pure in any such orientation. These two factors form four types of malignant character, which he calls Receptive, Exploitative, Hoarding and Marketing. He also described a positive character, which he called Productive.

Example: N.Losski picked out three three types of characters.

1.Gedonistic type with domination of lower, sensualistic drives suppressing all higher aspirations. The people of this type are completely under the influence of the biological nature. Their selfs is not yet mature.

2.Egoistic type. Their Self is quite mature and decorates all the strivings deeds and feelings. The Self (I) prevails in their consciousness and they are striving to broadly expose it in their activities.

3.Superpersonal type. Their aspirations similarly to those of the first type, are as if given outside, but their source is not in the physical needs of the body, but in the factors of higher order, namely: in higher religious, scientific and aesthetic strivings. Such people act as if not on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of the higher will, which they recognize as the rules of their deeds.

Losski points out, that it is impossible the sharp boundary between the three types, as there are intermediate types, that are transitional from one category to the other.

Bounded complexes of cognitive characteristics, values and motives as ground for personality classifications

Example: E.Spranger distinguishes six types of personality, which connect cognition and values correlating the personality type with cognition of the world.

  • The Theoretical, whose dominant interest is the discovery of truth. A passion to discover, systemize and analyze; a search for knowledge.
  • The Economic, who is interested in what is useful. A passion to gain a return on all investments involving time, money and resources.
  • The Aesthetic, whose highest value is form and harmony. A passion to experience impressions of the world and achieve form and harmony in life; self-actualization.
  • The Social, whose highest value is love of people. A passion to invest myself, my time, and my resources into helping others achieve their potential.
  • The Political, whose interest is primarily in power. A passion to achieve position and to use that position to affect and influence others.
  • The Religious, whose highest value is unity. A passion to seek out and pursue the highest meaning in life, in the divine or the ideal, and achieve a system for living.

One dominanting value corresponding to every type.

Contemporary problems of psychological classifications

The problems of psychological classifications are caused the high complexity and mobility of psychic. To classify the objects of the material world is more easy a task.

In psychology we study consciousness with the help of consciousness. Here new possibilities are opened and the same time new limitations accured, in part, due to the subjectivity and the necessity to overcome it as it is known, in the psychic there are conscious and unconscious cognitive processes. They often take place separately, as two different means to get knowledge (information) about situations in the world. Because of this, for instance, estimations of personality characteristics with the help of projective tests (with are addressed mostly to unconscious properties) often contradict to the results of self-estimations made with help of questionaries (which are based on consciousness).

For determining of psychological type of a person, it is important to have a measuring instrument (test, inventory etc.), that is calibrated to reveal not the present and actual situational characteristics, but the opens which are typical, repeating with higher probability in the course of life. That is why the methods, which allow to see the present characteristics through the prism of the person whole life: biografical, structured talk, longitudional observation in real situations) are very important for the psychologists. Such methods are well developed in the clinical psychology. In the work with healthy people the use of these methods is rather narrow.

Example: The program of personality measuring by A.F.Lazurski.

Training qualified specialists in the field of research and diagnostics of psychological types is a particular problem. Here a whole complex of specific knowledge and skills is required. For measuring psychological types it is important to have the ability to see not separate fragments of the psychic reality but operating with the systems (cognition, motivation, values, will, emotions, self-consciousness) and taking into account their wholistic character, to master the knowledge of steady variants of these systems and skills to compare their properties. The comparing and estimating the systems are more difficult in the absence of the reliable methodological base: there is no a generally accepted opinion on what to compare and how to estimate.

For investigation the types it is necessary to be able to use both the qualitative and quantative methods of empirical reality research, taking into account the following factors:

1.The scale and the complex character of research (the possibility of keeping under control several plans of different scales).

2.The character and specificity of distribution of properties and characteristics in the studied environment.

3.The adequate number of subscales, not violating the completeness and the constructive validity of a psychological traits.


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External links

  • Rudolf Steiner "The Four Temperaments" [2]