NPA theory of personality types
based on Mendelian genetics
Caricatures of the NPA character types
A.M. Benis, Sc.D., M.D.
We analyze genetically-determined character traits underlying personality. In our model, individuals have innate personality traits that are readily identifiable, leading to the formulation of discrete personality types. A "personality type" may become a "personality disorder" if the individual is maladjusted and comes to the attention of the mental health professional. One key trait that we identify as being determined by genetics is the sanguine trait, or "narcissism". Narcissism in this context is not so much the basis of the "narcissistic personality disorder" of psychiatry as it is a natural, heritable character trait. In fact, the sanguine trait of narcissism has certain parallels with a second personality trait that we identify in the normal personality: aggression.
NPA personality theory
The NPA theory of personality was developed by the author on the basis of concepts presented over fifty years ago by psychiatrist Karen Horney. The theory posits three major behavioral traits underlying personality: sanguinity, or "narcissism" (N), perfectionism (P) and aggression (A), leading to the formulation of discrete character types. Each trait is based on a major pleiotropic gene (a gene determining several related characteristics) that follows the rules of Mendelian genetics. The mode of transmission of the traits was implied from archetypal family pedigrees. The traits N and A were deduced to be high frequency recessive, with P being dominant.
The theory proposes that the natural character traits A and N are indispensable to human development, being related to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, respectively. Our interpretation of the three traits is as follows:
The trait of aggression is observed to be the most labile of the three. The stereotypic acts associated with this trait involve body posturing, gestures and eye contact of intimidation and deference, with individuals having this trait continually competing with each other on a scale of dominance and submission. The trait corresponds to a striving for power over one's environment, hence is one component of competitiveness or ambition. In a pejorative connotation the trait may reveal itself in the context of sadism or sadomasochism. The facial complexion is non-sanguine, i.e., tending toward sallowness or pallor in individuals of light skin color. The hallmark of the trait is a mass discharge of the sympathetic nervous system: the "flight or fight" response or the aggressive-vindictive rage. During the expression of this rage, the facial complexion of pallor is accentuated.
Sanguinity, or "Narcissism" (N)
The trait of sanguinity (narcissism, or "novelty-seeking") is noted to be less labile than that of aggression. The innate stereotypic acts associated with the trait include flaunting body posturing, expansive arm gestures, bowing, colorful self-adornment, and a natural attraction to the limelight of personal recognition. Individuals of the pure N type are competitive but non-aggressive in their strivings for recognition. The trait corresponds to a striving for glory in one's environment, hence is the second main component of human ambition. In a pejorative connotation the unbridled trait of narcissism may reveal itself in the context of conceit, exhibitionism, vanity and messianism. An associated innate facial expression is the radiant gingival smile (broadly exposing gums and teeth). The facial complexion is sanguine, i.e., tending toward blood red or ruddy in individuals of light skin color. Hallmarks of the trait include blushing, flushing, and a mass discharge of the parasympathetic nervous system: the narcissistic rage of defense and withdrawal. During the expression of this rage the normally sanguine complexion becomes even more florid.
Note that in NPA theory the sanguine trait, or "narcissism," refers to "normal narcissism," posited to be a common genetic trait. The term itself has no negative or pejorative connotation and does not necessarily imply an extreme, malignant form of narcissism known to health professionals as "narcissistic personality disorder," or NPD.
The trait of perfectionism is not a basic drive of ambition and is not associated with a rage reaction. Rather it is a mediator of the unbridled drives of aggression and/or narcissism. The stereotypic acts associated with the trait of perfectionism are obsessiveness, compulsiveness, repetition, and the maintenance of neatness, order and symmetry. A clue to the nature of the trait lies in the compulsive, repetitive mannerisms of autistic children and some adult schizophrenic individuals. The behavioral pattern is often ritualistic and the speech characterized by echolalia. We posit that certain autistic and schizophrenic individuals are those in whom the two components of ambition, i.e., aggression and narcissism, have been suppressed by genetic or environmental factors, either congenitally, in childhood, or after maturity, thus revealing in those individuals a primitive state of perfectionism.
Caricatures of the NPA types
This site contains caricatures of the various NPA character types, excerpted from our eBook. We suggest that you begin with the sanguine (narcissistic) N type. Note that the detailed descriptions of the various character types are caricatures that are meant to greatly magnify the specific characteristics, and foibles, of the various types and are not meant to be taken literally. The pejorative aspects of the descriptions may be considered to be the potential "worst" qualities of the various types.
Note that we distinguish between two distinct non-perfectionistic character types having unbridled ambition: the N type and the A type. The two should not be confused. The N type typically is a sanguine, sociable, smiling individual. The A type is a non-sanguine, unsmiling individual who "plays the game" of dominance and submission and is vulnerable to sadomasochistic interactions. If we say that Kaiser Wilhelm II, John F. Kennedy and Liberace were narcissistic N types, we make neither social commentary nor moral judgment. We simply record the genetic facts of life.
Following Karen Horney, we sometimes use masculine pronouns to describe the individuals, although the descriptions apply both to males and females. Unfortunately, in the English language there is no good way to avoid this.
For more information about NPA personality theory, see the links to the NPA sites, above. The NPA personality test is available online in English and French versions.
Important Note & Disclaimer:
The material herein is presented for purposes of information only. The diagnosis and treatment of behavioral disorders should not be attempted without the personal involvement of a licensed health care professional.