Breathing and Personality Traits: A Hypothesis

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 61 (July/August 2002)

We’ve known for decades now that when you are paying attention to some stimulus, internal or external, you hold your breath.

And when you breathe, that is part of the pattern and process wherein you are shifting your attention to some other stimulus. (See Two GUARANTEED Ways to Profoundly Improve Your Intelligence.)

Your breathing is the pacemaker for your brain and mind, controlling your attention span and awareness span [ibid.].

We’ve also known for decades that a short breathing span is greatly implicated in:

  • Attention disorders — probably half or more of the case load, though virtually no one is treating for this effect, “preferring to drug hapless children out of their brains and keep the owners of drug company stocks happy.”
  • Reading and language disorders — short-windedness is probably 40% or more of the remedial case load. A child struggling to read to the end of a sentence (or listen until the end of the spoken sentence), having to breathe first instead, loses the meaning of that sentence.

The validity of this second effect I have, over the years, invited perhaps 100,000 or so people to test directly for themselves, and maybe a half dozen or so have actually done so. The rest have preferred either to speculate about the matter or to shrug off the relationship as absurd and probably non-existent. But it is so remarkably EASY to test this effect for yourself:  go do something aerobic such as jogging, run up a mild oxygen debt — and then try to read (or do any close-attention task!) BEFORE your breathing settles back down!

Before I climb back down off my so very solitary soapbox about this remarkable reading issue, let me ask you:

If the child’s problem IS that of being so short of breath that he can’t pay attention, and he can’t get to the end of an ordinary sentence without losing its meaning, what good is all the arduous and expensive remediation he is now receiving by your school’s current methods?

Well, what if the teacher tries harder?

Well, what if the kid tries harder?

Well, somehow, it has to be the kid’s fault he isn’t “getting it.” Right? He just must not be paying attention or something.

To add to the absurdity — the painful, costly, human absurdity — chorus and band are usually regarded as “extracurricular,” therefore open only to kids who keep their grades up.

But such remedial children as HAVE gotten to sing for a year or longer in at least the church choir, if not the school chorus — most of these children found their reading or remedial problems have simply disappeared. Likewise with kids who’ve gotten to play in the band for a year, in either brass or wind instruments which, like singing, require that one develop some degree of breath control.

But because music is an “extracurricular frill,” most of the kids who really need that exercise to develop their breathing, or need field and track or swimming so they can correct their remedial problem and GET their grades up — most of them are reflexively denied this simple opportunity. They are forced instead to go on with the arduous and expensive “remediation” until they finally drop out of school.

  • Low I.Q. — for the simple reason in however many cases, that the very short-of-breath kid never gets to hold his attention in one place long enough to experience that there is some sort of relationship between one stimulus and another.

All meaningful human experience is a matter of relationships — how much difference will a change in one thing mean in others? All meaningful human thinking revolves around relationships and the perceiving of relationships. The very short-winded kid never gets to experience that human dimension of thought and perception — his “I.Q.” can’t help but sag badly. Yet fix up his breathing, and in a matter of months his “I.Q.” can climb 25, 35 or even 50 points as his functions extend into normality.

An element of this issue which may mean more to readers

We’ve gone over this before, we’ve shown ways to treat the condition, cited evidence [ibid.]. Despite the human costs and human stakes, I don’t really expect many more people to respond to these points than did to my prior article on the matter. It may be 50 or 100 years before people pay enough attention to the evidence right before their noses to stop this awful wastage of generation after generation of initially innocent children. But I’m writing this from another angle, on another aspect for which I do not have scientific evidence but only plausible speculation. Perhaps people will care more about matters of personality traits and who fits what profile per Myers-Briggs — and then their responses to that side of breathing dynamics will, in turn, lead to broader awareness of the more fundamental issues.


If you can’t usually hold your breath for 40 seconds or longer, or even 30 seconds, this forces your life into a set of strategies and practices which are very different from that majority (?) of people who can in reasonable comfort hold their breath for 40 seconds or longer.

Likewise, this hypothesis:

People who can hold their breath in reasonable comfort for 50, 60 seconds or longer, have available to them various strategies and practices which shape THEIR lives. These various strategies, cumulatively reinforced over time, become “personality traits.”

Let me give an example. Sooner or later, most of us find ourselves in some sort of argument. Most of us want, and try, to win the argument we find ourselves in, or at least to make a point or so. Then how does breathing, which controls your span of attention, affect the strategies available to you for scoring your points or winning your arguments? The strategies whose cumulative practice builds into being “personality traits?”

Simply put, here are two strategies for trying to score points or win arguments — two strategies which are very different from each other:

  • Bantam rooster strategy: — you “assert,” you attack immediately in everything you can, before you forget what the heck was being talked about.
  • Sequoia tree strategy: — You hang in there, patient, even genial, and occupy the ground when others in the discussion shoot their wad, make mistakes, or work themselves into a quandary, or make your points for you and supply you your ammunition, or otherwise start to get distracted from their original focus.

Which of these two strategies is practically required for the person whose breath and whose attention can’t sustain past 30 seconds?

Which of these two strategies is available and appropriate to those who can hold their focus nearly twice as long?

And, of course, who generally DOES get to win the arguments?

But it’s not winning arguments that I’m really talking about here. It’s about what causes various “personality traits” to be, which have been thought to be indelibly intrinsic to the person just as a given formal I.Q. score used to be thought to be indelibly, unchangeably intrinsic to the person. It’s about traits whose causes may actually be specific; traits which can actually be readily changed.

Thus far, I think we’re still on pretty solid ground with this, even though no scientific studies have been permitted in correlating breathing span with personality traits.

Now let me climb a little way out on a limb and propose that such correlations are really there… that, for example, most very short-winded people will tend to be aggressive, impatient, and immediately assertive, and pretty quick to fly off the handle.,, and that most people whose comfortable breathing span runs longer than 50 seconds will tend to be patient, easy-going, even genial, and will tend to win more of their arguments.

Change their respective breathing spans — and these indelibly individual intrinsic personality traits could reverse.

Of course, other factors can also lead to these various different strategy traits and, in some instances, will have been the cause, more so than the breathing span. Or they may have shaped the traits more strongly than did the breathing span, though that seems pretty powerful. It is the TENDENCY we’re looking for, the TREND as to whether breathing span DOES tend to correlate with actual personality traits.

So — recognizing the following to be among a much broader range of possible conclusions, please turn to your watch or some sort of timer and measure how long you can comfortably hold your own breath…….

Now check yourself off against the following table, especially if you are under 30 seconds or over 50 seconds. Then go time the breathing of your co-worker, your neighbor, your spouse, your kid…

By derivation we hypothesize:  Are you…

  • Can hold breath less than 35 seconds
  • Assertive-Aggressive
  • Has to make his points immediately
  • Frequently antsy
  • Frequently impatient
  • Can often get things done with amazing swiftness
  • More effective at the immediate than at the long-term
  • Can hold breath longer than 50 seconds
  • Usually laid-back, easy-going
  • Usually the winner
  • Generally comfortable
  • Often quite patient
  • Sometimes complacent, may procrastinate
  • Very good at long-term things, could be careless with detail