NPA Theory of Personality types
Caricatures of the character types
A.M. Benis, Sc.D., M.D
According to the NPA model, all individuals have three innate personality traits that are readily identifiable, leading to the formulation of discrete personality types. The three traits are sanguinity (N), perfectionism (P) and aggression (A). In some personality types the A trait is partially inhibited (denoted by A− or A=). The NPA traits are assumed to be based on separate genes and to assort independently. Thus, possible personality types are N, A, NP, NA, PA, NPA−, and so on. Particular "personality types" may become a "personality disorders" if the combined effects of genetic and environment are unfavorable in the individual's social situation. In the extreme, using terminology of psychiatry, trait A is related to "sadism, or antisocial personality disorder", trait P to "obsessive compulsive personality disorder", and trait N to "narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder."
The NPA model
Here is the NPA theory of personality in a nutshell:
The model was developed on the basis of concepts put forth over fifty years ago by German-American psychiatrist Karen Horney. According to the theory, there are three major, genetically determined, character traits that form the basis of personality. The traits are sanguinity (N), perfectionism (P) and aggression (A). The traits are multifaceted, or in formal terms "dependent on pleiotropic genes".
Sanguinity (N) is the trait of sociability. Individuals with the trait tend to be prone to flushing, blushing, tearfulness, and they smile easily in social circumstances. In the extreme, it is a "search for glory", and individuals may display vanity, exhibitionism and show overt narcissistic behavior. Individuals having trait N are called "sanguine" types and sometimes, appropriately, "narcissistic" types.
Aggression (A) is the well-known trait of competitiveness, often physical in nature. Individuals having the A trait (but lacking the N trait) tend to be inhibited in sociability and in flushing, blushing, tearfulness and smiling. In the extreme, the trait is a "search for power", and individuals may display physical confrontation, pugnacity and show overtly sadistic behavior. Individuals with the trait of aggression instinctively form "pecking orders". Individuals having trait A but lacking trait N are called "non-sanguine" types.
Perfectionism (P) is a trait that may or may not be present in a given individual. It may be thought of as modulating the traits N and A. Individuals having the P trait tend to value order, neatness and symmetry, and may be prone to repetitive mannerisms. In the extreme, the trait may be the cause of obsessive-compulsive or autistic-like behavior that may overwhelm other character traits. Individuals lacking trait P are called "non-perfectionistic".
Traits A and N are associated with rage reactions, namely the classic "aggressive-vindictive rage" (A rage) associated with pallor in individuals of light skin color, and the florid "narcissistic rage" (N rage) associated with sanguinity. The P trait is not associated with a rage reaction.
The traits A and N form the basis of human ambition, namely the desire to achieve power and glory, respectively.
An important result is that the model produces a limited number of discrete character types, according to how the three traits are assorted, and whether the traits are present, absent, or incompletely expressed. This produces the main categories of character types: 1) Dominant types and 2) Passive aggressive types. For more complete classification of NPA types, see our main web site.
Considering the case where all three traits are either absent or fully expressed, we obtain what we call "dominant types":
NP sanguine perfectionistic
NA sanguine aggressive
NPA sanguine perfectionistic aggressive
PA non-sanguine perfectionistic aggressive
A non-sanguine aggressive
Note that there are four sanguine types and two non-sanguine types, as well as four aggressive types and two non-aggressive types.
Passive aggressive types
If trait A is incompletely expressed, we obtain the category of "passive aggressive types." The term "passive aggressive" here simply means that the trait of aggression is partially inhibited. We append one minus sign (–) or two minus signs (=) to the letter A, according to whether trait A is only partially or profoundly inhibited:
NA– NA= sanguine passive aggressive
NPA– NPA= sanguine perfectionistic passive aggressive
Passive aggressive types may be prone to submissive behavior. For purposes of identification, we call the A= types "compliant types" and the A– types "non-compliant types". In dominant-submissive relationships, non-compliant types can play either the dominant or submissive role, depending on the partner, while compliant types will always seek to play the submissive role.
Caricatures of the NPA types
This site contains caricatures of the various NPA character types, excerpted from our book, "NPA Theory of Personality". We suggest that you begin with the sanguine 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
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 other languages (link above). If you think that you would like to take the test, it is better to do so before reading the caricature descriptions on this site.
We invite you to post comments or questions on our Message Board. No registration or password is required, and, of course, you can remain completely anonymous.
Book now available
The contents of this web site are available in eBook and printed versions (link below). The book contains, in addition, accounts of two types of symbiotic relationships based on the trait of aggression: "the morbid dependency" and "the power behind the throne". It also contains a 21-page synopsis of the NPA model.
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.