Temperament II: Players


This is the second installment regarding “temperament.” Temperament is a way I have come to see and understand people. It is not the only way and it may not be the best way,but it has been helpful for my understanding people for many years. Beginning with the Greek philosopher Galen two millennia ago there have been people who have used temperament as a valuable way of understanding people. Understanding people by their temperaments is part of what I have called a “friendly diagnosis.” In other words, instead of diagnosing people with some kind of disorder, like depression, anxiety, or personality disorder, making a friendly diagnosis is finding ways of understanding the basic natures that people have.Other positive ways of understanding people include personality type(originating with Carl Jung), multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner), the Enneagram, personal development (many authors), and cultural elements of personality and behavior.

In this and forthcoming blogs I will discuss each of four temperaments: player, analyst, lover, and caretaker. People tend to fall primarily into one of these temperaments, and sometimes two, but everyone has characteristics of all four temperaments to some degree. Let’s start by examining what I call the player temperament.


My introduction into psychological testing was exclusively directed at what was psychologically wrong with people, called psychopathology. The tests I was introduced to in graduate school in in 1969 were primarily the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Profile (MMPI) and the Rorschach Ink Blot test, although since that time many more problem-based tests have been developed. These tests provide categories like depression, anxiety, personality disorder, or schizophrenia. The MMPI, the Rorschach, and other tests of psychopathology gave me a way of understanding people, but primarily what was wrong with people. Next I learned about tests that identified personality “traits” that weren’t necessarily about psychological problems, like the Edwards Personal Preference Scale (EPPS), the California Psychological Inventory (CPI), and the Adjective Check List (ACL), all of which provided about 20 personality characteristics or traits. These tests of personality were more valuable in understanding the differences among people, but with 20 or 30 different terms, like “sucorance” and “achievement,” they were cumbersome in offering me a way to help understand how they saw the world and how they engaged the world.

My understanding and use of psychological testing was dramatically affected by three events: (1) Both the problem-based tests like the MMPI, and the personality trait-based tests like the EPPS didn’t really help people understand themselves and profit from that understanding. (2) Master therapist, Dick Olney, had “reframed” a very valuable way of understanding people developed by Alexander Lowen. Lowen identified people by “body type” and “diagnosed” them in the categories of schizoid, oral,masochistic, psychopathic, and rigid. Olney reframed these categories into words that were more positive, namely creative, loving, containing, challenging,and achieving. (3) By far the most dramatic development in my understanding of personality came when I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) developed by Elizabeth Briggs-Myers and her daughter, a test based on Carl-Jung’s psychological types. An adjunct to the MBTI was a system of“temperament” developed by David Keirsey. After some years using the MBTI and Keirsey’s understanding of temperament, I began to see patterns of personality and behavior that led me to develop my own temperament analysis using a test that I called the Johnson Temperament Indicator (JTI).

My understanding of temperament, while not unlike Keirsey’s and others who had preceded me did not develop all at once. The JTI and my analysis of temperament developed first by my understanding how two important people in my life operated: my daughter,Krissie, and my friend, Kevin. Kevin and Krissie seemed to share a certain similarity in the way they saw the world and engaged the world. They seemed to play all the time. I wrote a monologue on what I came to call “the player personality”originating in my observations of Kevin and Krissie but also on many people that came to my office. Since I had started my practice as a child psychologist, I continued to see a lot of children, many of which were struggling mightily in school and home for some reason. Often these children had been given diagnoses and medications to treat ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, or conduct disorder. But the parents who brought these kids to me weren’t satisfied with these diagnoses and medications and asked if I could help them deal with their children who seemed unruly and unpredictable. I found it valuable to “diagnose” some of these children as “players” and treat them accordingly. From this initial “friendly diagnosis” of the player personality,I began to see people with other temperaments, those that we will study in forthcoming blogs. But what could I say about the psychological makeup of players that distinguished them from people of other temperaments? This has been a work in progress and remains so.

Characteristics of players


One of the dominant features of players is physical movement. I saw this movement in Krissie and Kevin albeit in different ways, and I saw movement in all the player patients I saw in my office and friends in my social life. I recall a moment when I saw Krissie skipping between one room and another, skipping, not running, and certainly not walking. I saw Kevin nearly always moving his hands in ways that could have been American Sign Language except for the fact that it was unique to Kevin. I saw Kevin and Krissie always fiddling with something. Krissie would pick things up, explore them, and then perhaps drop them, often nowhere form where she-found them. When she was two, she loved to pull tissues out of the tissue box,much to the distress of my wife. I suggested that she just be allowed to pull the tissues out and see where it went. I don’t recall what actually happened,but it is likely that the living room looked like a tornado hit it. I watched Kevin do similar movements, often with his hands and fingers, but most distinctively he would chew on something, often a piece of paper with a kind of vigor that suggested he was somehow connected to this inanimate piece of paper.

My observation of people I came to call players was not limited to my daughter and my friend Kevin. I saw other people, both children and adults, engaging the world in a physical way. I saw people on the dance floor who seemed to have natural physical movement,albeit rarely in any kind of formal dance pattern. I saw kids playing various sports, but the player kids weren’t necessarily playing by the rules; they werejust playing. I saw movement in Sam, whose mother said that she “just couldn’t keep up with him” and in Jamie whose father was beside himself in trying to manage her movement in the house that seemed excessive to him. But movement was not the only thing players did. In fact, I came to understand the “excessive”movement that I saw in players as a way they wanted to engage life: they wanted to experience the world, not just-observe it.


At first I thought that players “played all the time.” While that is true is some ways, I came to see that players more accurately want to experience life, not watch it. Their way of learning is to live life by experiencing it in any way possible. This experiencing usually involves some kind of physical engagement, but it can also-be the experience of connection to another person, group, or event. This-experiencing life, whether personal or impersonal seems to be a way of making life real. Making physical property real means engaging things: picking them-up, dropping them, throwing them, or just fondling them. Making people real means the same thing: picking them up, perhaps dropping them, yes, maybe fondling them. Engaging machines most certainly means to see what these machine scan do, perhaps by turning the machine on full blast, which could be the radio or the crosscut saw. Things and people are real when they are engaged physically. Players don’t just watch; they have to be involved.

I had to learn early with daughter Krissie that she engaged all property as if all things were toys. This could be the tissue box or the mashed potatoes when she was young, and my charm bracelet (yes I have one) when she was a teenager. I still don’t know where some of the charms ever ended up, and she certainly doesn’t know. I recall-Kevin being one who would often literally “be in your face,” often with a grimace as if he were seeing into your soul. A player child I once saw in my-office jumped into my lap as soon as he came into my office, somewhat to the-chagrin of his mother. I’m quite sure the actor Robin Williams was a player having him engage anything or anyone in his environment as a way of experiencing people and things, always with a vigor of curiosity. Williams’form of experiencing blended with entertaining.


I think that all players like to entertain, but I think I originally conflated the player nature of extraversion, which only some players have. Players’ entertaining nature takes many forms. Entertaining people is a way players experience the world, engage to the world, and serve the world. Shakespeare said, “All the world is a stage.” Players take this to-heart.

My wife who certainly has a player nature (while primarily “analyst”, the next temperament that we shall study)finds a stage wherever she happens to be, preferably alone in her greenhouse with her precious flowers or in canyons with her precious rocks. It seems that God-is in all rocks, flowers, and more for Deb. I am never quite sure if God, the rocks, the flowers, or the canyons are part of the audience or returning the favor of entertaining her. Other players are like Jack, an 8-year old player kid I saw many years ago. When he was in my office, he spied my guitar in the-corner and told me he could play it. I was surprised to learn this about Jack because his mother had said that he never stuck with anything longer than 30 seconds. I invited him to pick up the guitar and play something. He did so without hesitation and began strumming the guitar, seemingly randomly, and singing equally randomly without meter, rhyme, or cord. He was entertaining me. Then he asked me if I could perhaps advertise my clientele for a performance he could do for people. I declined his request to his great disappointment. Jack,an extraverted player, just wanted to engage people by entertaining them. A more introverted young man and I talked about the magical wardrobe portrayed in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. When we walked around my office building one afternoon (as a part of “therapy”), he spied what he thought was a wardrobe and asked if he could get in it. I agreed, and he entered this old closet, sat on the floor and closed the door. He was there silently for ten minutes or more, and might have been there longer had I not opened the door. He was disappointed that the back of the “wardrobe” hadn’t opened up to Narnia. By the way, Jack had been brought to me by his father who was convinced that he was ADD because he couldn’t sit still. I’m convinced that he could havesat in the wardrobe still for hours waiting for Narnia to expose itself. He was ready to entertain all Narnians. When he was in the wardrobe, he was in the moment, and that was all that mattered.

In the moment:

One of the characteristics of-personality type (which we might study at a later time) is what I call a “low-boundary” orientation, something the Jung/Briggs people call “P people.” Low-boundary people challenge boundaries because they know that all boundaries are human-made, and hence artificial in a sense. While most players certainly have-this low boundary orientation, it seems that they live in the moment like there is no tomorrow. They know that the moment is all that we have so they want to fill that minute with 60 seconds worth of experience as Kipling once said. Players just don’t want to waste time; they want to use time. For players, especially young players, the moment is all that exists.They’re right.

I think my granddaughter,Alexis, has a good deal of this “in the moment” that players have. Given the opportunity, she will simply run, jump, and otherwise engage whatever part of the world she finds herself in. She seems most content to run around our lake cabin, sometimes disappearing into the woods, sometimes into the water, something that gives her mother (player daughter Krissie, by the way) great alarm. I think she is just seeing what is out there in the world and what is in there inside of herself. Some players find success in certain professional avenues,like improvisational work because they are so naturally good at entertaining by seeing what or who is in the moment. Whether experiencing, entertaining, or in the moment, all players are playing.


Players play. In fact, not only is all the world a stage, and every minute should be filled with experience, all things are playthings. That certainly means all property. It often means all money. And it means all people. They think that all things are toys, all money is play money, all people are playmates, and the world is a playground. But what is play? Play is activity that engages body, mind, soul,and preferably other people in activity that has no ultimate meaning but just meaning in the moment. Players want to enjoy property, places, and people not unlike the first rule of the Westminster Confession written some 400 years ago:“the chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

We will be looking at the Opportunities and Challenges that players have in the world. You might have already considered that players might have both. We dill defer this discussion, however, until a bit later because we want to tell you about the other temperaments. Next up: analysts.

Further Reading

Johnson, R. and Brock, D.(2018). Watch your temperament. Prepublication manuscript available at our office.

Bruner, J., Jolly, A., and Sylva, K. (1976). Play: its role in development and evolution. New York: Brunner.

Dabbs, J.M. (2000). Heroes, rogues, and lovers: testosterone and behavior. New York: McGraw Hill.