John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology


After having students rate their body type according to the handout below, I ask them to walk around and find other students who have a similar rating. I suggest that they talk about whether the somatotype theory seems accurate. This exercise often leads to interesting discussions about the possible biological basis of temperament and personality. Because some people are sensitive about their body image, I make sure the students know that this exercise is optional (which is true of almost all my exercises).

In the 1940s, Sheldon proposed a theory about how there are certain body types ("somatotypes") that are associated with certain personality characteristics. He claimed that there are three such somatotypes: endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy. You can rate yourself on each of these three dimensions using a scale from 1 (low) to 7 (high) with a mean of 4 (average). Therefore, a person who is a pure mesomorph would have a score of 1-7-1. A pure endomorph would be 7-1-1. A pure ectomorph would score a 1-1-7. A mostly average person who has some endomorphic tendencies would have a score of 6-4-4 ... etc. In the boxes below, rate the degree to which you think you possess each of the three body types.

somatotypesEndomorphic 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:

  • 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:

  • 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

Questions to consider:

Do the personality traits associated with your ratings seem accurate?

Do you think this somatotype theory is generally accurate for most people?

Do you know any people for whom this theory works or doesn't work?

What might be some problems with this theory?

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