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Understanding The Fisher Temperament Inventory & Its 4 Types

Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., C.N.S.
Expert review by
Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., C.N.S.
Holistic Child & Family Psychologist
A unique combination of clinical psychologist, nutritionist, and special education teacher, Dr. Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., has almost 20 years of experience supporting children, young adults, and families. She holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, a Master’s in Nutrition and Integrative Health, and a Master’s in Special Education, and is trained in numerous specialty areas.
June 28, 2020

It may come as a surprise that one of the lesser-known personality tests out there is actually the only one based on actual brain chemistry. It's called the Fisher Temperament Inventory (FTI)1, and it was created in 2005 by author and biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D.

It all began when a dating site called her in to ask her, what makes us fall in love? Fisher didn't know it then, but this question would prompt her to create the first personality test that was based not on linguistics but rather chemicals in the brain, leading to a better understanding of how our biology shapes our personality.

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Through her research, she was able to identify four systems that are each linked with a collection of personality traits. And when you understand your specific brain chemistry, you can better understand yourself (and others).

What is the Fisher Temperament Inventory? 

The test itself is a series of questions carefully curated by Fisher to isolate the particular brain systems in question: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen. The theory was that the four chemicals were linked with specific personality traits2, called "temperament suites." (For example, dopamine is linked with creativity.) "We'll express all of them, but we'll have some more than others," Fisher explains to mbg.

Once you answer the questions, the test tells you which chemicals are more dominant in your brain and, subsequently, what your personality is like as a result.

To study the validity of the test, Fisher had people take the questionnaire and then get MRI scans on their brains. Sure enough, people who showed estrogen dominance in the questionnaire, for example, consistently had more activity in brain regions linked with empathy and social skills. People who scored high on the serotonin scale showed activity in the part of the brain linked with social norm conformity.

"I'll never forget that moment, looking at that data," Fisher says, "and thinking, I've snuck into Mother Nature's kitchen and found some basic patterns of human behavior."

Below are the four temperament suites according to the Fisher Temperament Inventory. People will often have two of the four that are more pronounced, Fisher adds, so you could be a Negotiator/Explorer, or Builder/Director. But mainly, the test serves as a way to help understand why you (and even your friends or loved ones) are the way you are. "It's important to understand who you are," she says, "but it's important to understand who you are not."

Dopamine (Explorer)

If your test shows dopamine dominance, you would be an "Explorer." According to Fisher, Explorers are risk-takers, novelty seekers, and mentally flexible people. They're curious, spontaneous, and energetic, and above all, they are creative. They don't like too much routine and are always ready for the next adventure.

In additional research, Fisher has found that those with dopamine dominance typically prefer to date people who are also dopamine dominant.

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Serotonin (Builder)

Serotonin types are known as "Builders." Builders love structure and routine. They're traditional and conventional, conforming to social norms, including following the rules and respecting authority. They enjoy plans and schedules and are generally more concrete thinkers as opposed to theoretical. According to Fisher, there's also a tendency for Builders to be traditionally religious.

Those high on the serotonin scale usually prefer partners who are also high on the serotonin scale.

Testosterone (Director)

Those with testosterone dominance on the questionnaire are called "Directors," and they do well with "rule-based systems," or things like engineering, mechanics, computers, and even music, Fisher says. These people are analytical, logical, decisive, and have good spatial awareness. They're also tough-minded, direct in their speaking, and often skeptical.

Directors and Negotiators typically choose each other for romantic partners.

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Estrogen (Negotiator)

And lastly, Negotiators are those whose test showed estrogen dominance. Negotiators are conceptual thinkers, and Fisher notes they do well with ambiguity and long-term thinking. They are imaginative, usually have strong social skills, including an ability to read people's body language and tone, and are empathetic, trusting people. They are also typically emotionally expressive, where Directors typically are not.

Again, Negotiators and Directors usually go for each other romantically.

How does it compare to other personality tests?

Unlike other personality tests, "it's the only personality question in the world that is based on brain circuitry," Fisher notes. "And it's the only one that's ever been validated."

That's because most personality questionnaires are built from linguistic studies, which are not really possible to scientifically "test." The FTI is unique because the MRI research showed they were able to measure the questionnaire results and brain imaging matching up.

Of course, whether you swear by the FTI, your Myers-Briggs type, your horoscope, or any other "type" assessment out there, it comes down to what resonates with you and helps you better understand yourself.

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