NPA personality theory

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The NPA model

        Here is the NPA theory of personality in a nutshell:  
        The theory 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).

         Sanguinity (N) is a 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 trait (but not the N trait) tend to be inhibited in sociability and in flushing, blushing, tearfulness and smiling. In the extreme, it 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 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 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 "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 three categories of character types: 1) dominant types, 2) passive aggressive types and 3) borderline types.

Dominant types:

        Considering the case where all three traits are either absent or fully expressed, we obtain what we call "dominant types":

N   sanguine
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.

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
PA PA=  non-sanguine perfectionistic passive aggressive
A  A=  non-sanguine 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.

Borderline types:

        Borderline types are those in whom neither trait N nor trait A is fully expressed. These would include the non-sanguine passive aggressive types above (PA and A) as well as the non-aggressive types (NP and N).

        In individuals having just a single trait (of either N or A) that is profoundly suppressed (like PA= or N=), then the affected individual would be severely compromised or mentally ill, and the NPA model merges with one of mental illness, in particular, of schizophrenia. That is, it is not possible for a functioning individual to entirely lack both traits N and A.

        Finally, the NPA model predicts infertility in certain couples, namely those who, because of their particular genetic types, are prone to conceive non-viable progeny that totally lack both traits N and A. Thus, a fetus lacking expression of both traits N and A would not survive intrauterine life (appearing as miscarriage or stillbirth) or would "fail to thrive" in early infancy. The infertility could be partial or complete, depending on the exact genotypes of the parents.

Genetics and complexities

        The NPA character traits are discrete traits that are genetically determined, much like an individual's gender (male or female) is genetically determined. But there are many other aspects, both genetic and environmental, that impinge on personality, or how one behaves in social circumstances. Among these are basic drives (hunger, thirst, sex, territoriality), cognition (thinking, learning, reasoning, intelligence), temperament (the basic activity or excitability of an individual), as well as other less clearly defined human traits, like empathy and altruism. Environmental variables like nurture, culture and the individual's real life situation provide another overlay of complexity. The NPA model implies that the male-female dichotomy and the NPA genes would more basic than these other aspects of personality, hence it would be appropriate to study the latter in relation to male-female gender and NPA character type.

        The mode of genetic transmission of the NPA traits has not yet been verified. In some archetypal families, traits N and A appeared to be transmitted as mendelian recessive, while trait P appeared to be mendelian dominant. This leads to the important insight that the genetic loci for traits N and A likely code for inhibitors of the traits. For trait A, the model implies that whatever the complexity of the genes that permit the expression and modulation of the trait of aggression, it is a single genetic locus (the A locus of the NPA model) that permits inhibition of the final common pathway to expression of the A trait and A rage, permitting the occurrence of the non-aggressive N and NP types of the model. For trait N, the model implies that whatever the complexity of the genes that permit the expression and modulation of the trait of sanguinity, it is a single genetic locus (the N locus of the NPA model) that permits inhibition of the final common pathway to expression of the N trait and N rage, permitting the occurrence of the non-sanguine A and PA types of the model.

        However, the exact genetic basis of the traits is not important with regard to understanding the model.  Experience in other areas of genetics provides a guarantee that the fine details of the expression of the NPA traits will turn out to be highly complex.

Implications of having a genetically determine character profile

        There are important implications of being somewhat constrained by genetically determined personality traits, but "genetic determinism" is not one of them. Humans are cognitive beings, and we do have an element of free will:  although we cannot change our genetically determined character type, we can certainly change our behavior. For some discussion of the possible implications of the NPA model, please see our eBook.


        The terminology dealing with personality and behavioral disorders -- including that used by Karen Horney -- has always been highly pejorative, an important issue that has not been addressed by the psychiatric community. Our approach regarding the descriptions of the character types was intentionally to use hyperbolic language and to the label the descriptions as "caricatures". Please do not be quick to be offended if some aspects of your behavior are described as "passive aggressive", or "submissive", or "narcissistic", and so forth. The terms do not necessarily imply any kind of extreme behavior. No character type is presented as "better" than any other, and there are successes and failures, saints and sinners, in all of the categories.

Population Genetics

        If, as we posit, the NPA traits are genetically determined, then it should be possible to determine their geographical distributions. Geographically, the N and A traits are partially "entangled" in the sense that if one of the traits is absent, then the other must be present. As a start, we have estimated the geographical distribution of the different NPA types from available sources (see our "habitancy map"). We define a particular habitancy as a subpopulation having a certain distribution of NPA types. For ease of communication we define the following habitancies:

Polymorphic –– no tendency to any particular NPA character type
Sublime –– tending to N type (sanguine)
Punctilious –– ... NP type (sanguine)
Corybantic –– ... NA type (sanguine)
Demonstrative –– ...  NPA type (sanguine)
Authoritarian –– ... PA type (non-sanguine)
Militant –– ...  A type (non-sanguine)
Introspective –– ... NPA– type (sanguine)
Acquiescent –– ... NA– type (sanguine)

        The Authoritarian and Militant habitancies have mainly non-sanguine types; the other habitancies have a preponderance of sanguine types. Examples: 
Polymorphic: USA, UK;  
Sublime: Polynesian Islands, Eastern Africa, Mongolia, areas of India;  
Punctilious: Northern Italy, Switzerland, Germany, areas of Scandinavia, China, Korea, indigenous Yucatan & Arctic, USA Midwest;  
Corybantic: Brazil, Argentina, Senegal, indigenous New Guinea & Australia, Bougainville, Vanuatu.
Demonstrative: Southern Italy, Colombia, Northern Iran;  
Authoritarian: Western Russia, Poland, Serbia; 
Militant: areas of Mideast: Yemen: Arab region of Iraq.  
Introspective/Acquiescent: Finland, Scotland, New Zealand, Tasmania.

The NPA personality test

        If you are interested in the theory and have not yet delved much into the NPA model, then we would encourage you to take the NPA test before reading the character caricatures.

        Note that "personality tests" are not hard science, as there is a myriad of factors that can influence how a particular individual answers the questions. Such tests are used because more scientific tests are not yet available. However, the results of such tests may sometimes provide insight into a given individual's personality traits, and the results for categories of people reporting behavioral disorders may be used to generate hypotheses that could eventually be subject to genetic testing.

Message Board

        We welcome you to visit our Message board. You can post any comment or query, whether of general or personal nature. No registration or password is necessary, and, of course, you can remain completely anonymous.

Photo quiz

        Can you identify the eight individuals, and their NPA character types, in the photo lineup at the head of this page? (See answer at bottom)

Sites and Files

NPA theory, pdf file
Personality types of NPA theory
Personality types of ancestral hominids
Geographic distribution of NPA personality types
Fictional characters


NPA theory & schizophrenia:
Benis A.M.  A theory of personality traits leads to a genetic model for borderline types and schizophrenia. Speculations in Science & Technology 1990;13(3):167-75.

NPA theory & dopamine receptor DRD3:
Benis A.M. and  Hobgood D.K.  Dopamine receptor DRD3 codes for trait aggression as Mendelian recessive. Medical Hypotheses 2011;77(6):1108-10.

Personality traits in Australian Aborigines
Benis A.M.  Survey of personality traits of perfectionism and inhibition of aggression in Australian Aborigines by use of internet sources. [unpublished pdf file]   


YouTube site:

NPA personality test 
Autism: personality traits of parents of autistic children
I-matches: Infertility related to genetic personality traits
Sam Vaknin takes the NPA test
Gestures of aggression and narcissism
Use of NPA theory to predict personality traits in offspring

Message Board

NPA personality theory


Benis A.M. NPA Theory of Personality. Second edition (2008, 2014)
Originally published as Toward Self & Sanity: On the genetic origins of the human character by Psychological Dimensions Press, New York, 1985.

eBook & print editions

Answer to photo quiz: 
Marilyn Monroe, N / Benjamin Netanyahu, PA / Maria Callas, NA / Abraham Lincoln, NP / Vladimir Putin, A / Mikhail Gorbachev, NPA  / Prince Charles, NPA- / Jane Fonda, NA-
© A.M. Benis, Sc.D., M.D., 2015