C. Robert Cloninger

C. Robert Cloninger

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C. Robert Cloninger

C. Robert Cloninger (born April 4, 1944) is an American psychiatrist and geneticist who has made significant contributions to the understanding of the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of mental health and illness. In this article, we will review Clonginger’s life and contribution to the world of Psychology.

Cloninger grew up in a rural area of Texas, where he developed an interest in nature and science from an early age. He attended Rice University, where he majored in physics and mathematics, and then Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude in 1968. He completed his residency in psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, where he joined the faculty in 1973 and became a full professor in 1980. Cloninger is currently a professor emeritus of psychiatry, psychology, and genetics at Washington University and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. (Cloninger, 2020).

Cloninger has received numerous awards and honours for his research, such as the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychological Science from the American Psychological Foundation in 2004, the Kempf Fund Award for Research Development in Psychobiological Psychiatry from the American Psychiatric Association in 2006, and the Carl Gustav Jung Prize for Medicine from the C.G. Jung Foundation for analytical psychology in 2010.

He is also a member of several prestigious societies, such as the National Academy of Medicine, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and the International Society for Psychiatric Genetics. He has been a visiting professor at many universities around the world, such as Oxford University, Cambridge University, Karolinska Institute, Peking University, and Kyoto University (Cloninger & Zohar, 2011).

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Temperament and Character Inventory

Cloninger is best known for his development of the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI), a personality test that measures four dimensions of temperament and three dimensions of character.

According to Cloninger’s psychobiological model of personality, there are four dimensions of temperament that reflect the activity of different brain systems and neurotransmitters (APA Dictionary of Psychology, n.d.). These dimensions are:

Novelty seeking: a tendency to seek excitement, stimulation, and novelty in response to cues of potential reward or relief of punishment. It is associated with low basal dopamine activity and increased dopamine release in response to novel stimuli (Cloninger, 1994).

Harm avoidance: a tendency to be sensitive to, and avoid, negative stimuli such as pain, fear, uncertainty, or loss. It is associated with high serotonergic activity and increased serotonin release in response to aversive stimuli (Cloninger, 1994).

Reward dependence: a tendency to respond positively to signals of reward, such as social approval, affection, or gratitude, and to maintain rewarded behaviour. It is associated with low basal noradrenergic activity and increased norepinephrine release in response to rewarding stimuli (Cloninger, 1994).

Persistence: a tendency to persevere in a task or activity despite frustration, dissatisfaction, or fatigue. It is associated with low basal glutamatergic activity and increased glutamate release in response to challenging stimuli (Cloninger et al., 2006).

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These dimensions of temperament are considered to be genetically influenced and relatively stable throughout life. They influence how individuals react to environmental stimuli and cope with stressors. They also interact with the three dimensions of character, which reflect the development of self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (Cloninger et al., 2006).

Self-directedness measures the extent to which a person is goal-oriented, autonomous, and responsible for their actions.

Cooperativeness measures the extent to which a person is empathic, tolerant, and supportive of others.

self-transcendence measures the extent to which a person is open to spiritual, mystical, and transcendent experiences that go beyond the self and the material world (Self Transcendence, 2023).

Cloninger et al. (1993) proposed that these dimensions of character are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, and that they interact with the dimensions of temperament to form a comprehensive personality profile. The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) assesses these seven dimensions of personality (Temperament and Character Inventory, n.d.).

self-transcendence is defined as the extent to which a person identifies with something greater than oneself, such as nature, humanity, or a higher power (Cloninger et al., 1994). According to Cloninger, self-transcendence is a key component of psychological wellbeing, as it enables people to cope with stress, find meaning and purpose in life, and achieve personal growth and Self-actualization (Cloninger, 2016).

Cloninger argues that self-transcendence can be cultivated through three interrelated processes: plasticity, virtue, and creativity.

Plasticity refers to the ability and willingness to change one’s habits and beliefs in response to new experiences and insights.

Virtue refers to the intuitive understanding of what is good for oneself and others, based on empathy and compassion.

Creativity refers to the capacity to generate novel and useful solutions to problems, as well as to express one’s unique identity and potential (Cloninger, 2016).

The TCI is closely related to and an outgrowth of the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ), and it has also been related to the dimensions of personality in Zuckerman’s alternative five and Eysenck’s models and those of the five factor model (Wikipedia, 2023).

Psychobiological model of personality

He has also proposed a psychobiological model of personality that integrates genetic, neurobiological, developmental, and environmental factors.

C. Robert Cloninger’s psychobiological model of personality is a comprehensive theory that integrates genetic, neurobiological, developmental, and environmental factors in explaining individual differences in temperament and character. According to this model, temperament is based on four heritable and stable dimensions that reflect the activity of specific neurotransmitter systems: Novelty Seeking (NS), Harm Avoidance (HA), Reward Dependence (RD), and Persistence (P). These dimensions are influenced by genetic variations and early life experiences, and they affect the emotional and motivational aspects of behaviour.

Character, on the other hand, is based on three dimensions that reflect the development of higher cognitive functions and self-awareness: Self-Directedness (SD), Cooperativeness (C), and self-transcendence (ST). These dimensions are influenced by social and cultural learning, and they affect the cognitive and moral aspects of behaviour.

Cloninger (2004) stated that “character development is a process of self-organization that occurs throughout life as a person learns to cope adaptively with challenges and opportunities” (p. 97). The psychobiological model of personality also proposes that different combinations of temperament and character traits are associated with different types of personality disorders, as well as with different levels of wellbeing and mental health.

He has applied his model to various psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, mood disorders, and personality disorders.

Cloninger has also explored the role of spirituality and wellbeing in mental health, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. He has published over 600 scientific papers and several books on these topics (Cloninger & Zohar, 2011).


APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.). Cloninger’s psychobiological model of personality. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/cloningers-psychobiological-model-of-personality

Cloninger, C. R. (2016). The virtues in psychiatric practice: A psychobiological model of positive mental health. In C. R. Cloninger & S. Cloninger (Eds.), The virtues in psychiatric practice: A psychobiological model of positive mental health (pp. 3-34). Oxford University Press.

Cloninger, C. R. (2020). Cloninger, C. Robert. In H. Friedman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of mental health (2nd ed., pp. 403-406). Elsevier.

Cloninger, C. R., & Zohar, A. H. (2011). Personality and the perception of health and happiness. Journal of Affective Disorders, 128(1-2), 24-32.

Cloninger, C. R., Zohar, A. H., Hirschmann, S., & Dahan, D. (2017). The psychological costs and benefits of being highly persistent: Personality profiles distinguish mood disorders from anxiety disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders, 208, 94-104.

Cloninger, C. R., Svrakic, D. M., & Przybeck, T. R. (2006). A psychobiological model of temperament and character. In T. A. Widiger & P.

Cloninger, C. R. (1994). The temperament and character inventory (TCI): A guide to its development and use. Center for Psychobiology of Personality, Washington University.

Cloninger, C. R. (2013). What makes people healthy, happy, and fulfilled in the face of current world challenges? Mens Sana

Cloninger, C. R. (2004). Feeling good: The science of well-being. Oxford University Press.

De Fruyt, F., Van De Wiele, L., & Van Heeringen, C. (2000). Cloninger’s psychobiological model of temperament and character and the Five-Factor Model of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 29(3), 441-452.

Monographs, 11(1), 16-24. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-1229.109288

Self Transcendence. (2023). Cloninger’s theory of personality. http://self-transcendence.org/cloningers-theory-of-personality

T. Costa Jr. (Eds.), Personality disorders and the five-factor model of personality (3rd ed., pp. 41-65). Washington: American Psychological Association.

Wikipedia. (2023). Temperament and Character Inventory. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperament_and_Character_Inventory

Zwir, I., Arnedo, J., Del-Val, C., Pulkki-RÃ¥back, L., Konte, B., Yang, S. S., … & Cloninger, C. R. (2019). Uncovering the complex genetics of human personality: response from authors on the PGMRA model. Molecular psychiatry, 24(5), 731-735.

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