On This Day … 08 October

People (Births)

  • 1888 – Ernst Kretschmer, German psychiatrist and author (d. 1964).

Ernst Kretschmer

Ernst Kretschmer (08 October 1888 to 08 February 1964) was a German psychiatrist who researched the human constitution and established a typology.


Kretschmer was born in Wüstenrot near Heilbronn. He attended Cannstatt Gymnasium, one of the oldest Latin schools in Stuttgart area. From 1906 to 1912 he studied theology, medicine, and philosophy at the universities of Tübingen, Munich and Hamburg. From 1913 he was assistant of Robert Gaupp in Tübingen, where he received his habilitation in 1918. He continued as assistant medical director until 1926.

In 1926 he became the director of the psychiatric clinic at Marburg University.

Kretschmer was a founding member of the International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy (AÄGP) which was founded on 12 January 1927. He was the president of AÄGP from 1929. In 1933 he resigned from the AÄGP for political reasons.

From 1946 until 1959, Kretschmer was the director of the psychiatric clinic of the University of Tübingen. He died, aged 75, in Tübingen.

Cooperating with the Nazis

After he resigned from the AÄGP, he started to support the SS and signed the “Vow of allegiance of the professors of the German universities and high-schools to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialistic state.” (German: “Bekenntnis der Professoren an den deutschen Universitäten und Hochschulen zu Adolf Hitler und dem nationalsozialistischen Staat”).

Scientific Contribution

Persistent Vegetative State and Sensitive Paranoia Research

Kretschmer was the first to describe the persistent vegetative state which has also been called Kretschmer’s syndrome. Another medical term coined after him is Kretschmer’s sensitive paranoia. This classification has the merit of singling out “a type of paranoia that was unknown” prior to Kretschmer, and which “does not resemble the stereotypical image […] of sthenic paranoia”. Furthermore, between 1915 and 1921 he developed a differential diagnosis between schizophrenia and manic depression.

Types of Physique

Kretschmer is also known for developing a classification system that can be seen as one of the earliest exponents of a constitutional (the total plan or philosophy on which something is constructed) approach. His classification system was based on four main body types:

  • Asthenic (thin, small, weak).
  • Athletic (muscular, large-boned).
  • Pyknic (stocky, fat).
  • Dysplastic (unproportionate body).

The concept of two great psychopathological types of manic-depressive or ‘circular’ insanity and dementia praecox (i. e. schizophrenia) was developed by Emil Kraepelin.

Each of these body types was associated by Kretschmer with certain personality traits and, in a more extreme form, mental disorders. He wrote that there is only a weak relation between Schizophrenics and pyknic body type on the one hand, and between Circulars (with the tendency to circular type of manic-depressive psychosis) and asthenics, athletics, and dysplastics on the other.[4] Among the schizophrenics also the asthenico–athletic types are very prevalent.[4] Kretschmer believed that pyknic persons were friendly, interpersonally dependent, and gregarious. In a more extreme version of these traits, this would mean for example that the obese are predisposed toward manic-depressive illness. Thin types were associated with introversion and timidity. This was seen as a milder form of the negative symptoms exhibited by withdrawn schizophrenics. However, the idea of the association of body types with personality traits is no longer influential in personality psychology.

The Temperaments

Kretschmer divided the temperaments into the two “constitutional groups”: schizothymic, which contain a “psychaesthetic proportion” between sensitive and cold poles, and cyclothymes which contain a “diathetic” proportion between raised (happy) and sad. The modern term for light version of ‘circular’ insanity is cyclothymia. Psychic tempo of schizothymic people is between unstable and tenacious and they have alternation mode of feeling and thought, and cyclothymes psychic tempo is between mobile and comfortable. Schizothymic’s psychomotility is often inadequate to stimulus: inhibited, restrained, lamed, stiff, etc., and psychomotility of cyclothymes is adequate to stimulus and natural. Cyclothymes are often pyknics, schizothymes – athletic, asthenic, dysplastic, and their mixtures.

The Schizoids consist of the hyperaesthetic (sensitive) and anaethetic (cold) characters.

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