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section heading icon     phenotypes

This page discusses 'blood type' psychology, a contemporary counterpart of pseudo-scientific character identification systems such as phrenology and physiognomy.

It covers -

It supplements discussion elsewhere on this site regarding Identity and Biometrics.

     introduction

If theorists of physiognomy and phrenology believed that "what's bred in the bone" is destiny (with character being innate rather than a matter of nurture and circumstance) enthusiasts for 'blood type psychology' believe that blood group -

  • determines character
  • is appropriately recognised through opportunity (eg job and partner selection) and thus
  • largely determines an individual's fate.

Pseudo-scientific claims about a crucial relationship between 'character' (attributes such as reliability, coldness or empathy, emotional lability, analytical and creative aptitudes, 'leadership') emerged after Karl Landsteiner's epochal discovery of blood groups - aka blood types or phenotypes - at the turn of last century.

The striking absence of an empirical basis for assertions by eugenicists (eg academics associated with the controversial Pioneer Fund in the US) and racists (most egregiously through Nazi proponents of 'social prophylaxis', ie genocide) has not deterred popular and commercial acceptance in Japan and South Korea of the notion that personality types are determined through blood groups. Identify an individual's group - A, B, O or AB - and you have supposedly determined that person's -

  • suitability as a partner, an executive or an employee (eg trustworthiness, self-control and independence)
  • emotional characteristics
  • social attributes (eg friendliness, consistency, diligence)
  • cognitive attributes (eg creativity, persistence, problem solving).

The notion combines a dash of fin de siecle psychologising (eg Jungian typologies such as introversion), with cultural preconceptions and some raw physiology. It has led some observers to refer to blood type psychology as the Japanese version of astrology, dismissed by scientists but embraced by the mass media, consumers and many businesses.

Unsurprisingly, it has drifted across the Pacific and been repackaged by US new age healers as a guide for good living, including decisions about diet, exercise routines and the selection of partners. We can thus expect to see more references to a modern form of the 'humours' discussed by Galen, Paracelsus and their contemporaries, with zealots offering a zodiac-style typology such as

  • Type A - people with Type A Blood are "calm, composed, level-headed and serious", with "a firm character". They are "reliable and trustworthy ... think things over and make plans carefully".
  • Type B - those with Type B Blood are "curious about and interested in everything" but "tend to have too many interests and hobbies, and they tend to get all excited about something suddenly and then later drop it again just as quickly". B Types "tend to excel in things rather than just be average. They have the image of being bright and cheerful, full of energy and enthusiasm".
  • Type O - people supposedly "set the mood for a group and ... take on the role of creating harmony among its members". They are easygoing, big-hearted, peaceful and carefree but "have a stubborn and strong-willed side ... and tend to secretly have their own opinions on things". [Nothing like a characterisation that fits all circumstances] O Types are "generally loved by all", "easily influenced by others or by what they see on television" and "often slip ... the point that makes O Types lovable".
  • Type AB - those with Type AB Blood "are said to have a delicate sensitivity", are considerate and deal with care but are strict on themselves and their close associates. "They often become sentimental, and they tend to think too deeply". AB people have a lot of friends but "need time to be alone and think things through".

Acceptance of 'Blood type psychology' offers a perspective on how we conceptualise identity (in particular how we conceptualise 'character'), the nature of belief and the assimilation of science in popular culture.

     development

Japanese notions of a fundamental link between personality and blood group appear to date from publication during the late 1920s iof claims by sociologist Furukawa Takeji (1891–1940) and Furuhata Tanemoto - now best known as a forensic odontologist - at a time when research into blood types was new, exciting and eminently publishable.

Furukawa's salient work appeared in the Japanese Journal of Criminology during 1931. He asserted that there were two personality categories: a passive category (with those of blood group A or AB being generally mild tempered, even languid, and intellectual) and an active category (those of blood type 0 and B were hot-tempered, energetic, non-reflective and even primitive). That categorisation was taken by enthusiasts as dividing humanity into 'good' and 'evil', 'followers' and 'leaders', 'civilised' and 'primitive', 'Japanese' and 'others'.

Those ideas were not particularly original. German academic Emil von Dungern (1867-1961) for example had offered an "anthropology of blood types" to underpin claims of racial superiority. Von Dungern asserted that the undiluted blood of the 'European races' (ie Germans) was type A, an inner embodiment of the outward identity represented by the blond-haired and blue-eyed Aryan. (His supporters were unfazed by the failure of most of the Nazi leadership to match that image). He also claimed that the 'Asiatic races' (with black hair and black eyes) possessed type B blood, leading to the conclusion that anyone with type B blood was not of entirely 'European' ancestry.

Furukawa's claims reached a receptive audience, with reports for example that a box for identification of blood group appeared on many Japanese recruitment forms from 1930 onwards (on the basis that the information would aid evaluation of a candidate’s employment and promotion potential).

Asada Hajime (1887-1952), a forensic medicine specialist now best known as a pioneering sexologist or as inventor of the first Japanese polygraph, claimed that office workers and finance executives were predominantly Type A, primary and secondary school teachers were usually of group AB, most students at military academies were group O, and geisha and detectives were predominantly B and O. Supposedly no Japanese detective was Type A. Asada concluded that A or AB was the best blood type for retail staff, B or AB was ideal for diplomats and blood group O was a prerequisite for military leaders.

His peers took labelling a stage further, claiming that Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya were 'active' cities (with a high proportion of O and B blood group people), in contrast to 'passive' Kyoto (with a high proportion of A and AB blood). Japan's colonies - and even its northern islands - were supposedly populated by people with the wrong blood type.

Furukawa's epigones, in particular journalist Nomi Masahiko and son Nomi Toshitaka, elaborated his schema, conveniently dispensing with analytical rigour. One report claimed that people with O group blood were more likely to commit violent offenses and predominated among blue-collar crime. White-collar crime, on the other hand, was an avocation of people with A group blood.

Japanese enthusiasts, like their German peers, sought to link psychiatric problems to blood type or to determine whether people with a particular blood group were physically healthier. One report claimed that the B group was dominant among vagrants. Atsumasa Aragaki reportedly suggested that

the genial and self-sacrificing type A woman is the ideal mate for the type O man. In much the same way, the calm and intelligent type O woman is the ideal mate for the type A man.

Nomi's 1971 Ketsueki-gata de Wakaru Aisho (What Blood Types Reveal about Compatibility) reportedly has sold several million copies, with later works - often under the auspices of the family's Institute of Blood Type Humanics - promising to make "life a fantastic success after only twelve minutes". That is presumably a resonant message for consumers of red string, magic crystals, 'energy water' and other contemporary hocus pocus.

Uptake outside Japan has seen naturopath Peter D'Adamo promote blood groups as a mechanism for choosing the best diet, notably in his 1996 Eat Right For Your Blood Type. Some peers are more wild-eyed. The genre is all very 'blood & soil', with suggestions that we should revert to the diets of our 'ancestors' after recognising that people with O group blood are the descendants of hunters (and accordingly need lots of exercise and a diet rich in meat), A group people trace their origin to "more advanced" tillers of the soil (and thus need a vegetarian diet with gentle exercise), B group people were traders and need a mixed diet, AB were artisans and so forth.

Another classifies groups in terms reminiscent of 'race & soil' theorists, with people being urged to choose their diet and occupation on the basis that -

  • Type O people are "warriors", "the oldest of all the blood types". "These people are highly motivated, leaders of people. They aren’t afraid to gamble because they are confident they can pull it off. They have a strong physical presence and are generally good at sport".
  • Type A are farmers, "conventional in all that they do ... considerate to other people, and find it hard to tell lies", loyal but secretive and sometimes violent when drunk.
  • Type B are "hunters", "non-conventional, ... thick-skinned ... they can seem shallow to other people, and lazy".
  • Type AB are "considered humanists", who "go with the head rather than the heart", act as mediators and "are also good with money".

     application

Does such faux science matter?

One response is that belief in astrology is trivial (unless it's being practiced by Nancy Reagan in the White House) because it is an indulgence without consequences. In contrast, blood type psychology in Japan has served as a mechanism for social sorting and thereby for discrimination, given community acceptance of the typing (evident for example in public figures identifying their blood group in publications such as Who's Who in Politics & Govenment and recurrent inclusion of blood type books in bestseller lists).

One commentator observed that

Japanese blood-type analysis is serious business. Corporate managers use it to hire workers, market researchers use it to predict buying habits, and most people use it to choose friends, romantic partners, and lifetime mates.

It is the basis for products targeted at the different blood groups, including 'blood horoscopes', bath salts, music CDs, underwear and pillows (extra soft for the sensitive A group consumer) and chewing gum.

It is also the basis for 'life instruction' manuals, career guidance primers and partner selection broadcasts, videos or services (online and face to face).

     phenotypes and law

New age vendors of blood type psychology services sporadically refer to "certification" of their supposed expertise or professionalism. That certification is self-awarded rather than conferred by an independent body or government agency and thus has no formal recognition by Australian law. As of December 2008 claims by vendors do not appear to have been tested in an Australian court.

Could someone be legitimately excluded from a job or other opportunity on the basis of blood type psychology?

In Australia the answer is no. The pseudo-science is not legally recognised and exclusion would breach federal and state anti-discrimination law. For example possession of blood group A is not an inherent requirement of a teaching job and exclusion of people with O or AB blood would accordingly breach the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

section marker     studies

The absence of a scentific basis for blood type psychology claims has meant that there is little medical literature from US, UK or Australian researchers, with assertions by some Japanese researchers being treated as a curiosity and suggestions that some Occidental researchers have a covert racist agenda.

There is little English-language sociological literature on popular belief regarding blood group psychology (eg in dating sites and newspaper lonelyhearts ads) and on recognition of that belief in employment practices, antidiscrimination law and quasi-official publications.

Works include 'Personality, blood type, and the five-factor model' by Kenneth Cramer & Eiko Imaike in 32(4) Personality and individual differences (2002), 'Blood groups and Personality traits' by Raymond Cattell, Young & John Hundleby in 16(4) American Journal of Human Genetics (1964) 397-402 and 'Blood groups and personality traits' by Cattell & Hundleby' in 24(4) American Journal of Human Genetics (1972) 485-486, 'Blood type and the five factors of personality in Asia' by Kunher Wu, Kristian Lindsted & Jerry Lee in 38(4) Personality and individual differences (2005) 797-808, 'The biological basis of cross-cultural differences in personality: Blood group antigens' by Hans Eysenk in 51 Psychological Reports (1982) 531-540, 'Blood type and personality' by Mary Rogers & Ian Glendon in 34 Personality and Individual Differences (2003) 1099-1112.

Cattell's 1964 article was generously dismissed as nonsense by A S Weiner in 17 American Journal of Human Genetics (1965) 369-370, complemented by 'Beyondism: Raymond B. Cattell and the New Eugenics' by Barry Mehler in 99 Genetica (1997) 153-163.

You Are Your Blood Type (New York: Pocket Books 1983) by Nomi Toshitaka & Alexander Besher is a key work by the leading Japanese blood type psychology evangelist and a US science fiction writer. Among new age 'wellness' literature see What's Your Type?: How Blood Types Are the Keys to Unlocking Your Personality (New York: Plume 1997) by Pete Constantine, The Answer is in Your Bloodtype: Research Linking Your Blood Type to Life Span, Love and Compatibility, Your Likely Illness Profile, Diet and Exercise for Maximum Life (New York: Personal Nutrition 1999) by Steven Weissberg & Joseph Christiano and Eat Right For Your Type (New York: Putnam 1996) by Peter D'Adamo.

Points of entry to the literature on blood and identity include Essential Haematology (Oxford: Blackwell 2006) by Victor Hoffbrand, Paul Moss & John Pettit, Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce (New York: Knopf 1999) by Douglas Starr, The Science and Politics of Racial Research (Urbana: Uni of Illinois Press 1994) by William Tucker and 'Blood—in All of Its Senses—As a Cultural Resource' by Jennifer Robertson in Cultural Resources (Oxford: Berghahn 2008) edited by Shinji Yamashita & Jerry Eades.

Perspectives on sorting and its consequences are offered by Richard Siddle's Race, Resistance and the Ainu of Japan (London: Routledge 1996), The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1991) by Michael Burleigh & Wolfgang Wippermann, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (Chapel Hill: Uni of North Carolina Press 1995) by Henry Friedlander, Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1988) by Robert Proctor, The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil and Russia (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1990) edited by Mark Adams, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1993) by Stefan Kuhl, Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others, Germany 1933-1945 (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1988) by Benno Müller-Hill, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1995) by Daniel Kevles, The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund (Urbana: Uni of Illinois Press 2002) by William Tucker, Eugenics, Human Genetics, and Human Failings: The Eugenics Society, Its Sources, and Its Critics in Britain (London: Routledge 1992) by Pauline Mazumdar and her 'Two Models for Human Genetics: Blood Grouping and Psychiatry in Germany Between the World Wars' in 70(4) Bulletin of the History of Medicine (1996) 609-657, Struggle for National Survival: Eugenics in Sino-Japanese Contexts, 1896-1945 (London: Routledge 2002) by Juliette Chung and 'The American Eugenics Movement and the Tyranny of Scientific Expertise' (2005) by John West.

For Australian perspectives see The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia (New York: Basic Books 2003) by Warwick Anderson and Reading Doctors' Writing: Race, Politics and Power in Indigenous Health Research, 1870-1969 (Acton: Aboriginal Studies Press 2004) by David Thomas.





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