Personality and temperament

Alongside measures of mental health problems, the Catalogue details measures of personality and temperament, at the item level. While personality and temperament are not mental health problems, there can be links between personality features and vulnerability or resilience to mental health difficulties.

We have used the following definitions to guide our selection of the personality and temperament measures to be included in the Catalogue:

Personality: the combination of characteristics and qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character, which are expressed in consistent patterns of thinking, emotions, actions and behaving. Personality is most commonly assessed in adults and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people, the environment and in social situations. Personality is thought to be formed from a combination of genetic predispositions and experiences, and shows some stability across the life course.

Temperament: also relates to consistent individual differences in behaviour, especially in terms of reactivity and self-regulation. Temperament is most often assessed in childhood, and variations in temperament are often recognisable within the first few weeks of life. Like personality, temperamental traits are partly heritable, and may sometimes be early indications of personality.

There has been extensive debate over the extent to which personality and temperament overlap, or are separate constructs. We consider them together under the same topic heading on the Catalogue. On the Catalogue, you can find items relating to personality and/or temperament under the topic heading ‘Personality and temperament’, or by searching for the standard instruments and non-standard items listed below.

Sometimes, there will be overlap between personality and temperament items and mental health topics included on the Catalogue. For example, measures of impulsivity appear under personality and temperament, but also ADHD. Personality disorders are not considered part of personality and temperament, and are listed under a separate topic heading on the Catalogue.

Measuring personality and temperament

Personality can be measured using standard instruments such as:

  • Big Five Inventory (BFI)
  • International Personality Item Pool (IPIP)
  • Midlife Development Inventory
  • Eysenck’s Personality Inventory (EPI)

Standard measurements of personality are mostly based on the widely supported dimensions of personality known as the OCEAN traits, the ‘Big Five’, or the ‘Five Factor Model’. These are:

  • Openness: refers to the willingness to try new things as well as to engage in imaginative and intellectual activities. It includes the ability to “think outside of the box.” Open people will enjoy learning new things, be curious and have a wide range of interests. A more closed person may dislike change, be less imaginative and resist new ideas.
  • Conscientiousness: refers to a person’s ability to regulate their impulse control to engage in goal-directed behaviours. It measures elements such as control, inhibition, and persistence of behaviour. Individuals scoring highly on conscientiousness are more likely to be organised, hardworking, and goal driven, and those with a low score may be more impulsive, messy, and perhaps irrational.
  • Extraversion: this reflects the extent of and intensity with which individuals seek interaction with their environment, particularly socially. It encompasses the comfort and assertiveness levels of people in social situations. Extraverts will be more likely to seek excitement, enjoy being around others, and be more outgoing; introverts may avoid large groups and situations that involve making small talk.
  • Agreeableness: this focuses on people’s orientation and interactions with others, and how kind and helpful they are. It encompasses trust, altruism, and prosocial behaviours. Those scoring highly tend to be more cooperative and compassionate; those scoring low on agreeableness may take little interest in others or be more competitive and stubborn.
  • Neuroticism: refers to the overall emotional stability of an individual. It considers how likely a person is to interpret events as threatening or difficult. It is characterised by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability. By contrast, individuals who score low on neuroticism tend to be more relaxed, less emotionally reactive, and more optimistic.

There are a number of different definitions of temperament (in part depending on the age at which it is assessed), and a range of instruments have been designed to assess aspects of temperament in infancy and childhood. We have included all standard instruments of temperament on the Catalogue, and used these to identify non-standard items as well. Examples of these include:

Infant Behaviour Questionnaire (3-12 months):

  • Activity level: movement of arms and legs, squirming and locomotor activity.
  • Distress to limitations: fussing, crying, or showing distress when in a confining place or position.
  • Soothability: the extent to which the infant/child’s fussing, crying, or distress reduces when the caretaker uses soothing techniques.

Early Childhood Questionnaire (18-36 months):

  • Activity/energy level: the rate and intensity of gross motor activity.
  • Fear: negative affect, including unease, worry or nervousness related to anticipated distress or perceived threatening situations.
  • Shyness: slow or inhibited approach and/or discomfort in social situations involving novelty or uncertainty; versus sociability, for example, seeking and taking pleasure in interactions with others.

Children’s Behaviour Questionnaire (3-7 years):

  • Inhibitory control: the capacity to plan and to suppress inappropriate responses in novel or uncertain situations.
  • Sadness: the amount of negative affect and lowered mood and energy related to exposure to suffering, disappointment, and loss.
  • Anger/frustration: the amount of negative affect expressed when tasks are interrupted or goals are blocked.

The Emotionality, Activity and Sociability (EAS) Scale measures similar temperamental dimensions as those listed above, and we therefore also considered this instrument’s dimensions when identifying non-standard items from studies across the Catalogue. The EAS is designed to identify heritable temperamental traits at any age but is generally used during childhood.

The EAS establishes three main dimensions of temperament:

  • Emotionality: an individual’s emotional reaction to environmental stimuli.
  • Activity: an individual’s level of energy.
  • Sociability: an individual’s level of comfort around, and interaction with, other people.

This is not an exhaustive list but demonstrates the types of measures and dimensions of temperament included on the Catalogue. 

We have also included single items that index these personality and temperament dimensions; for example, if you type in ‘agreeableness’ into the search bar, you will discover multiple studies covering this dimension, either via standard instruments or individual stand-alone items.

The most common stand-alone traits you will find on the Catalogue include:

  • Risk-taking
  • Trusting
  • Patience
  • Emotion regulation
  • Locus of control
  • Self-efficacy
  • Optimism
  • Cooperation
  • Competitiveness
  • Impulsivity
  • Empathy
  • Soothability
  • Crying
  • Fussing
  • Activity level

We hope that the inclusion of these measures on the Catalogue will be helpful to users and will encourage beneficial research into the links between mental health, personality and temperament.

Click here to find studies on the Catalogue including measures of personality and temperament!


Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48(1), 26–34

Rothbart, M. K. (1981). Measurement of temperament in infancy. Child Development, 52, 569-578.

Putnam, S. P., Gartstein, M.A., & Rothbart, M. K, (2006). Measurement of fine-grained aspects of toddler temperament: The Early Childhood Behaviour Questionnaire.  Infant Behaviour and Development, 29 (3), 386-401.

Rothbart, M. K., Ahadi, S. A., Hershey, K. L., & Fisher, P. (2001). Investigations of temperament at 3-7 years: The Children’s Behavior Questionnaire. Child Development, 72, 1394-1408.

Buss, A. H., & Plomin, R. (1984). Temperament: Early developing personality traits. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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