Kretschemer theory: the relationship between body and temperament

Explanations centered on the personality have not always reigned in the study of personality. At the beginning of the last century, various proposals for somatic explanations began to appear, such as the Kretschemer biotype, which descends from a way of understanding psychology that dates back to the time of Hippocrates.

Below we see Kretschemer’s theory and how he relates different bodily constitutions to the attributes of human temperament.

    Kretschemer’s constitutional model

    Biological theories of personality is based on the idea that human behavior depends primarily on physical characteristics of the organism, and not so much in the variables linked to the context in which we live. These theories have their roots in the first steps of medicine in Greek territory, but it is normal that their approaches are biological.

    This constitutional model, in psychiatry, is represented by Kretschemer. Ernst Kretschemer, German psychiatrist, was interested in the problems of physical constitution and how the vegetative and endocrine mechanisms determine it. He theorized that these maintained some sort of relationship with the formation of each person’s temperament. In addition, he endeavored to unravel the relationship between a person’s character, constitution and psychiatric syndromes.

    The fruits of these efforts were reflected in his constitutional model of personality. For Kretschmer, the constitution is made up of all the characteristics with which an individual is born. This includes the genotype which interacts with the environment to produce a phenotype. This phenotype manifests itself in three ways: constitution, character and temperament. Since they are manifestations of the same phenotype, it is theorized that they have a close relationship with each other.

    On the basis of clinical observations and anthropometric research, Kretschmer describes a constitutional typology that he defends. the existence of four main types:

    1. Leptosomal

    Kretschmer’s theory describes the leptosomal as a person with long arms, a high neck, and a sunken chin. A kind of Don Quixote both physical and temperament. The leptosomal is shy, hypersensitive, eccentric and he tends to live in his own fantasy world.

    2. Picnic

    This guy is described as a stocky, belly-like person. He has a spherical head and round face, with a short neck and limbs, and short, thick fingers. Taking up the quixotic characteristics of leptosomal, the picnic would look like Sancho Panza: warm, outgoing, cheerful, kind by nature, Practical and down to earth.

    3. Athletic

    The athlete has strong muscles, hard and strong bones, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. This corresponds to a type of physique similar to that of Superman. The temperament of athletic-type individuals it is associated with relentlessness, emotional coldness and aggression. They are very competitive individuals.


    It is the rarest constitutional type. All proportions of the body are out of balance and, if applicable, so is his temper. This type, according to Kretschmer’s observations, is associated with endocrine disorders and, very frequently, with severe schizophrenia.

    How to interpret this classification of personality?

    These constitutions are not taxonomic, but should be understood as dimensions. According to Kretschmer, most people have an amalgamation of types and each is located closer to one end to one type and further to the other. For that, not everyone displays a profile that matches exactly with one type or another, only that they approximate more or less depending on their phenotype.

    Following this line, he studied through an experimental methodology what individual differences existed between the different types. Kretschmer tested the variability of characteristics such as color and shape sensitivity, concept formation, or psychomotor speed in different constitutional types.

      Criticisms of Kretschmer’s model

      Of course, no model is free from criticism and Kretschmer biotypes are no exception. It is hoped that a model that feeds directly on ideas as unscientific as the moods of Hippocrates will have serious flaws in its validity.

      On the one hand, the Kretschmer model sins not very exhaustive in its description. It establishes four categories which vaguely and imprecisely describe four stereotypical profiles. These profiles are rigid and immobile, generating two important problems: it leaves unexplained the characteristics which are not described in the model and does not offer a flexible explanation for the cases which do not correspond to the model.

      This is due in part to the fact that the sample Kretschmer used to develop his model consisted of psychiatric patients, mostly schizophrenic, and men. The model, ignoring the problems of internal consistency and consistency, it cannot be extrapolated to the general population.

      In contrast, although the Kretschmer biotypes they constitute an interesting antecedent of rupture with the psychiatric tradition whereas normality and disease have no clear limit but are a matter of degree, he offers an explanation of personality through circular reasoning. Kretschmer does not base the theory rigorously, but the theory is based on itself.

      In short, if Kretschmer’s effort to modernize the relationship between body and personality is laudable and lacks scientific spirit, his theory remains the vestige of an outdated way of understanding personality.

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