Temperament of healthy people and mental illnesses, particularly affective disorders, have been conjectured to lie along a continuum of neurobehavioural regulation. Understanding the nature of this continuum may better inform the construction of taxonomies for both categories of behaviour. Both temperament and mental illness refer to patterns of behaviour that manifest over long time scales (weeks to years) and they appear to share many underlying neuroregulatory systems. This continuum is discussed from the perspectives of nonlinear dynamical systems theory, neurobiology and psychiatry as applied to understanding such multiscale time-series behaviour. Particular emphasis is given to issues of generativity, fungibility, metastability, non-stationarity and contextuality. Implications of these dynamical properties for the development of taxonomies will be discussed. Problems with the over-reliance of psychologists on statistical and mathematical methods in deriving their taxonomies (particularly those based on factor analysis) will be discussed from a dynamical perspective. An alternative approach to temperament based upon functionality, and its discriminative capabilities in mental illness, is presented.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Diverse perspectives on diversity: multi-disciplinary approaches to taxonomies of individual differences’.