When I first moved to Japan in college, every weekend meant a party and a new group of people to meet, with a standard set of questions I got asked. The logic behind “What’s your name?” was obvious, and “Where are you from?” also makes sense when you’re one of the few non-Japanese people in the room. “Do you like Japanese girls?” was another common one, based on the widely held, if not always true, theory that foreign guys like Japanese women, and vice-versa.
Those three always came first, but it wasn’t long until someone would want to know my blood type. No, my school wasn’t filled with vampires or hemophiliacs, nor hemophiliac vampires (the most tragic undead demographic). People just wanted to get a sneak peak of my personality, which is thought to be strongly connected to what runs through your veins by many people in Japan.
One man who’s not a believer, though, is Professor Kengo Nawata from Kyushu University’s Social Psychology Department, whose recently concluded research shows no correlation between personality and blood type.
Let’s start with a quick primer on blood type personality theories. In simple terms, Type As are thought to be earnest and considerate, Type Bs passionate yet self-centered, Type Os laid-back and easy-going, and Type ABs creative and mysterious.
It’s pretty easy to notice that “self-centered” sticks out as an undesirable trait in group-oriented Japan, and it’s not unusual to hear singles say “I wouldn’t want to date someone who’s Type B.” And hey, when it comes to romance, people like what they like, and don’t what they don’t. The bigger problem, though, and the one Nawata is troubled by, is companies in Japan asking about applicants’ blood types during job interviews, something the professor calls “Blood Type Harassment.”
Nawata, along with a team of economic researchers, conducted a survey of more than 10,000 people in Japan and the U.S. Participants were asked for their attitudes regarding a total of 68 statements, such as “I leave fun things for later on,” and “People shouldn’t gamble.” Sawata then sifted through their responses to look for statistical discrepancies between respondents with different blood types.
The results were published in June in the journal of the Japanese Psychological Association. According to Sawata, differences between blood types were only observed for three of the 68 statements, and even then, they were minute.
“This strongly indicates that there is no connection between blood type and personality,” Sawata concluded.
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare shares Sawata’s disdain for the popular form of pseudo-science, as well as his concern over individuals’ economic prospects being inappropriately affected by their blood type. “Blood type has absolutely no relation to a person’s work abilities or aptitudes,” the organization asserted in a statement. Likewise, Osaka’s Labor Bureau has asked certain companies to stop asking job-seekers for their blood type on applications.
So if psychologists and economists are speaking out against it, how did this whole blood type/personality thing become so prevalent? You can blame Masahiko Nomi, who wrote Understanding Affinity by Blood Type in 1971. From there, media outlets picked up his ideas, and the Japanese public imagination has never entirely let them go, despite some rather large contradictions to Nomi’s litmus/blood test of character.
For example, Al Capone’s Type O blood should have made him an easy-going guy, but history points to that label being less accurate than, say, violent mobster. And as for Type As? Well, O.J. Simpson and Adolph Hitler were Type A.
Wow, it’s like Nomi’s theories come from someone with almost no medical or psychological credentials at all. That’s not true though, at least until you remove the “almost” part. Nomi was a journalist who studied engineering in university. If being a writer without an educational background in mental health allows you to spout off on keys to a person’s psyche, my business degree and I want in on the action.
Some people are still unwilling to give up on Nomi’s ideas though, and usually cite two sources of anecdotal evidence. The first is that in Japan, where A is the most common blood type, being majime, earnest and responsible, is considered a virtue of the highest order. In contrast, blood type connection advocates say, the U.S. has many people who’re Type B, which is reflected in the American ideal of blazing your own trail in life.
Except, only about 11% of the U.S. has Type B blood, which doesn’t seem like nearly enough to be the driving force behind the country’s perceived national character. B isn’t even the most common American blood type (it’s O, and by a pretty decent margin). It’s more likely that Japan and America’s, on average, differing priorities are due to the influences of their differing historical and sociological circumstances.
The other defense of linking blood type to personality comes from people who swear their coworker/ex/friend from high school fits Nomi’s profile exactly. While it’s hard to argue with personal experience, once again you can’t ignore the sociological factors at play here.
While some people are more interested in blood types than others, pretty much everyone in Japan is aware of the basic profiles we described above, such as type Bs being predisposed to self-centeredness. Ask yourself this, though: Do you know anyone who’s never done a single selfish thing?
Of course you don’t. Even the most considerate people occasionally give into temptation or just suffer a lapse in concentration and put themselves before others. The difference is that when Yamada, who’s Type A, finishes the last of a pitcher of beer, people think, “Eh, he must be thirsty,” or “He probably had a rough week.” But when Type B Tanaka does the same thing, he gets a different reaction.
The human brain loves to look for patterns, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Long ago our ancestors put two and two together and realized everyone in the tribe who ate uncooked mammoth steaks that’d been lying out too long got sick and died, so maybe they should stop doing that, and our species got a little smarter and safer thanks to their powers of observation.
But sometimes, the brain goes into overdrive on its pattern hunt. When you stop and consider all of the life experiences, interpersonal relations, and soul-searching that goes into creating a person’s personality, it seems a little silly, and maybe even sad, to chalk it all up to the type of sugars attached to our red blood cells.
Sources: Yomiuri Online, American Red Cross, LiveScience, What’s My Blood Type
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