The Somatotypes of Sheldon

By Human Nature and Human Types

William Sheldon (1898-1977) was an American psychologist who devoted his life to observing the variety of human bodies and temperaments.

For his study of the human physique, Dr. Sheldon started with 4,000 photographs of college-age men, which showed front, back and side views. By carefully examining these photos he discovered that there were three fundamental elements which, when combined together, made up all these physiques or somatotypes. With great effort and ingenuity he worked out ways to measure these three components and to express them numerically so that every human body could be described in terms of three numbers, and that two independent observers could arrive at very similar results in determining a person’s body type. These basic elements he named endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy, for they seemed to derive from the three layers of the human embryo, the endoderm, the mesoderm and the ectoderm.

  • Endomorphy is centered on the abdomen, and the whole digestive system.
  • Mesomorphy is focused on the muscles and the circulatory system.
  • Ectomorphy is related to the brain and the nervous system.

We have all three elements in our body, just as we all have digestive, circulatory and nervous systems. No one is simply an endomorph without having at the same time some mesomorphy and ectomorphy, but we have these components in varying degrees. Sheldon evaluated the degree a component was present on a scale ranging from one to seven, with one as the minimum and seven as the maximum.

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