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Dr William Sheldon's Somatotypes

"William Sheldon (1898-1977) was an American psychologist who devoted his life to observing the variety of human bodies and temperaments. He taught and did research at a number of U.S.universities and is best known for his series of books on the human constitution. He was a keen observer of animals and birds as a child, and he turned this talent to good effect by becoming an avid people-watcher, and out of his observations he gradually elaborated his typology."
from Tracking the Elusive Human

The three somatotypesIn the 1940s, Sheldon developed a theory that there are three basic body types, or somatotypes (based on the three tissue layers: endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm), each associated with personality characteristics, representing a correlation between physique and temperament

Endomorphy - focused on the digestive system, particularly the stomach (endoderm); has the tendency toward plumpness, corresponds to Viscerotonia temperament tolerant, love of comfort and luxury, extravert

Mesophorphy- focused on musculature and the circulatory system (mesoderm), has the tendency towards muscularity, corresponds to the Somatotonia temperament courageous, energetic, active, dynamic, assertive, aggressive, risk taker

Ectomorphy focused on the nervous system and the brain (ectoderm) - the tendency towards slightness, corresponds to Cerebrotonia temperament artistic, sensitive, apprehensive, introvert

On this basis, Sheldon created his very interesting Atlas of Men (Macmillan Pub Co; 1970) in which all possible body types are graded in a scale from 1 (low) to 7 (high), based on the degree to which they matched these types; with 4 as average). Each type is represented by a series of photos, and is given a comical or descriptive name, like "saber tooth tiger" for extreme mesomorph, "Baluchitherium" (the largest prehistoric land mammal) for mesomorph and endomorph, "Male Mosquito" for the extreme ectomorph, and so on. On this scale, the extreme or pure mesomorph has a score of 1-7-1, the pure endomorph 7-1-1, and the pure ectomorph 1-1-7. Most people of course are a combination of types. The atlas referred to Male typology only; a female atlas was planned but never produced. The following list of characteristics is from external link Teaching Clinical Psychology - Somatotypes

Endomorphic Body Type

Endomorphic Body Type:

  • soft body
  • underdeveloped muscles
  • round shaped
  • over-developed digestive system
Associated personality traits:
  • love of food
  • tolerant
  • evenness of emotions
  • love of comfort
  • sociable
  • good humored
  • relaxed
  • need for affection
Mesomorphic Body Type

Mesomorphic Body Type:

  • hard, muscular body
  • overly mature appearance
  • rectangular shaped
  • thick skin
  • upright posture
Associated personality traits:
  • adventurous
  • desire for power and dominance
  • courageous
  • indifference to what others think or want
  • assertive, bold
  • zest for physical activity
  • competitive
  • love of risk and chance
Ectomorphic Body Type

Ectomorphic Body Type:

  • thin
  • flat chest
  • delicate build
  • young appearance
  • tall
  • lightly muscled
  • stoop-shouldered
  • large brain
Associated personality traits:
  • self-conscious
  • preference for privacy
  • introverted
  • inhibited
  • socially anxious
  • artistic
  • mentally intense
  • emotionally restrained

It is interesting to compare Sheldon's three temperaments with the classic four humours - the corpulent but optimistic Sanguine would seem to correspond to the Endomorphic Viscerotonic type, the pugnacious Choleric to the Mesophorphic Somatotonic type, and thin introspective Melancholic to the anxious Ectomorphic Cerebrotonic type. None of Sheldon's temperaments seem to match the Phlegmatic, although the endomorph would correspond in body-type.

On the other hand, the element "air" (= Sanguine) is traditionally associated in western hermeticism (e.g. the external link Tarot suites) with the Jungian faculty of thinking, which implies the intellectual and hence cerebrotonic type, all of which shows how misleading it can be to force correlations between different conceptual systems


Web links Links Web links

Web Page Dr. William Sheldon - human personality traits / human temperament types

online book Tracking the Elusive Human - A Practical Guide to C.G. Jung's Psychological Types, W.H. Sheldon's Body and Temperament Types, and Their Integration - online book - includes a good introduction to Sheldron's types.

Web Page Somatotypes

Web Page what is your Body Type - from a bodybuilding site - includes a quizz, but its pretty self-obvious

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content by M.Alan Kazlev

page uploaded 17 August 2004