“Let me guess, you’re type A?”
“I knew it! You are such a type O!”
“…yes, I am such a universal donor.”
I have had countless permutations of this conversation in Korea. Although I am glad that so many people know that my blood type is O because it could come in handy if they find me bleeding out in the street and the EMTs need to know what type of blood transfusion I’ll need, I am always surprised that such an intimate medical detail is a part of everyday conversation in Korea. Most people in other countries don’t know their blood type unless they’ve needed a blood transfusion or happen to be interested in those kinds of medical things. But in Korea and Japan and many other East Asian countries, people don’t see it as a medical detail but an essential clue into your personality, like a horoscope. In fact, romantic compatibility by blood type is a big thing here in Korea, as shown by the number of advice books that detail how to deal with type A guys, type AB girls, et cetera et cetera. There was even a hit Korean movie in 2005 called “My Boyfriend is Type B,” in which a couple tried to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of incompatible blood types.
I don’t believe a word of this nonsense. The idea that people’s personalities can be classified by blood type seems as silly as the medieval concept of humors leading to four temperaments, but for some reason it’s a huge thing in Korea. So what are the alleged characteristics of the different blood types? Since I cannot rattle off the different traits of each blood type like most Koreans can, I have enlisted the help of Wikipedia to list the alleged traits.
Best traits: Earnest, creative, sensible, reserved, patient, responsible
Worst traits: Fastidious, overearnest, stubborn, tense
Best traits: Wild, active, doer, creative, passionate, strong
Worst traits: Selfish, irresponsible, unforgiving, erratic
Best traits: Cool, controlled, rational, sociable, adaptable
Worst traits: Critical, indecisive, forgetful, irresponsible, “split personality”
Best traits: Confident, self-determined, optimistic, strong-willed, intuitive
Worst traits: Self-centered, cold, doubtful, unpredictable, “workaholic”
As you can see, these are broad characterizations that could easily fit any person regardless of blood type. But people believe that the characteristics of their blood type perfectly match them due to the Forer effect, which is “the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.” Again, thank you Wikipedia. And even if they don’t match, they just assume they are atypical of their blood type instead of refuting the notion. Really, the entire concept should be more of a case study for cognitive biases than a determinant of personality traits, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.
So since when have Koreans (and East Asians in general) subscribed to this idea? The idea gained popularity in the 1970s with a book written by lawyer and broadcaster and non-possessor of a background in medicine or psychology Masahiko Nomi base on largely anecdotal and not-at-all scientific evidence. From there on out it became a mainstay of women’s magazines and dating sites, much to the chagrin and annoyance of actual psychologists and medical researchers. I’m guessing it was a hit because it was another parameter that could help predict people along with astrology and zodiac signs. I mean, what better than a simple (if completely fallacious) way to classify people by a clear biological standard which would predict their behavior and temperament, right?
If the previous sentence sounded eerily like the kind of scientific racism favored by Nazis and other master race enthusiasts, that’s because that was the point. Although Masahiko Nomi may have started the blood type personality craze to contribute to the self-help section of bookstores, it originated from “research” that was a bit more sinister than shitty pseudo-psychology. Once Austrian Karl Landsteiner discovered the three main blood types (ABO) in 1900, it was a matter of time before people found out that different ethnicities had different blood group distributions. And of course, the 20th century’s most infamous organizers of people based on ethnicity and whatnot, the Nazis, saw this as potential evidence of certain groups being biologically superior to others. But they gave up on the idea (which speaks volumes about the validity of the research. I mean, the Nazis of all people couldn’t find the flimsiest excuse for using blood groups as scientific evidence supporting the superiority of the Aryan race uber alles.) and the idea was instead picked up by their Eastern counterparts, the Japanese Empire. In 1927, Takeji Furukawa a professor at Tokyo Women’s Teacher’s School (again, with no credentials in the related fields), published a paper titled “The Study of Temperament Through Blood Type” in the journal Psychological Research. This gained popularity with the Japanese public and the militaristic government, and led to further studies including one that compared the blood group distributions of the Formosans of Taiwan, who had been violently resisting the Japanese occupation, and the Ainu of Hokkaido, who had been a peaceful minority in Japan for a long time. Indeed, Furukawa’s explicit purpose in this study was to “penetrate the essence of the racial traits of the Taiwanese, who recently revolted and behaved so cruelly.” Because 41.2% of the Formosan blood samples were type O and only 23.8% of the Ainu samples were type O, it was assumed that type O blood had somehow contributed to the Taiwanese rebelliousness. The study concluded with Furukawa’s suggestion that this rebelliousness be bred out of the Taiwanese through increased intermarriage with Japanese settlers. Yay, ethnic cleansing.
So blood type personalities stem from a form of pseudoscience that is closely related to eugenics and ethnic cleansing based on racial supremacy. The irony of the situation is lost on many Koreans and East Asians, who do not realize that the “scientific” basis for the personality classifications they use originated from research intended to subjugate them. It would be like a Jewish fraternity engaging in hazing rituals whose safety parameters were based on studies done in Dachau and Auschwitz (I’m not saying that happens, but it is a tad too specific an allegory, no?). Of course, I’m not dismissing blood type personalities because they’re based research done by groups of people obsessed with world domination and racial superiority. I’m dismissing it because even those people, who engaged in all sorts of outlandish, fucked up research that we would today dismiss because it stretches the definition of what could possibly be considered scientific, thought it was too ridiculous.
Although the story of blood type personalities seems to be more of a topic about Japan or Germany than Korea, it’s just another example of something that may have originated in another country but Koreans have adopted and made their own. There are plenty of better known examples like Starcraft or Spam, but I guarantee that if you spend any amount of time with actual Koreans, there’s a greater chance that they’ll ask you about your blood type than your ability to play Starcraft. So make sure you know what your blood type is. Even if you know the connection to personality is completely false, at least you’ll know what type of blood you’ll need in an emergency.