[WHY] Blood types, palm reading, now MBTI: Korea's love for categorizing

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[WHY] Blood types, palm reading, now MBTI: Korea's love for categorizing

Apple. What was the first thing that just popped into your mind? If it’s something like “red” or “sweet,” the second letter of your MBTI personality type may be an S. If you instead think of Snow White or an iPhone, the letter could be N.
Many young Koreans nowadays categorize themselves and predict others' personalities using the results of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality assessment. People with S, which stands for sensing, tend to focus on the impressions and patterns created by information they receive, while people with N, which stands for intuition, rely more on imagining the past and future potential of said information.
Developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers in 1943, the MBTI involves a series of questions each with two possible answers and divides people into 16 personality types based on their answers.
Korea’s craze for MBTI started when a site called 16personalities, which provides a free test that mimics the more elaborate, not free-of-charge MBTI test, became popular online. Users answer 60 questions, a process that takes about 12 minutes, and results are given right away. A total of over 40 million people have taken the test, according to the site, over 70,000 of which are from Korea. Riding the fad, some companies are even using the MBTI test as a marketing strategy, requiring them on applications or during interviews to evaluate job applicants.
But MBTI is not the only personality indicator that Koreans are so enthusiastic about. For years, Koreans in general have been very keen on categorizing people into groups and predicting others' personalities based on certain traits, though no one knows for sure when or where the fad originated. 
People read the papers telling their fortune for the year, according to their 12 zodiac animals, in central Seoul on Dec. 30. [NEWS1]

People read the papers telling their fortune for the year, according to their 12 zodiac animals, in central Seoul on Dec. 30. [NEWS1]


What other indicators do Koreans believe can be used to categorize people?

Before the MBTI went viral, blood type was the most common way through which people would try to predict others' personalities and categorize them.
There are four main blood types — A, B, AB and O — determined by the genes inherited from one's parents. In Korea, blood types are widely believed to be closely related to people's personalities. There is, however, no solid scientific evidence supporting this.
Regardless, according to this theory, people with blood type A are usually very diligent and friendly but have very sensitive personalities. They are thought to be less likely to express themselves to others and prefer to be alone rather than involved in groups as they feel uncomfortable in crowded areas.
People with blood type B are known to be very outgoing and passionate. But on the flip side, they can be very arrogant. There is also a saying that males with B blood types are playboys.
People with blood type O are said to be the most suitable as leaders and coworkers as they are very practical, have good communication skills and easily build close relationships with others. But they are known to be less responsive on the outside as they hesitate to express their true feelings due to the fear of rejection.
Lastly, people with the blood type AB, which is the rarest blood type in Korea, can show various personalities depending on their feelings, mood or situations, and sometimes have no control over it. Oftentimes they are stereotyped as geniuses or psychos.
Another tool by which Koreans categorize people is the 12-year zodiac cycle, similar in ways to Western astrology. Twelve animals represent each year, according to the lunar calendar, and the years repeat in a cycle every 12 years. Koreans call the lunar animal years ddi, which roughly translates to sign, referring to the year in which they were born, and have set beliefs that people have particular characteristics based on their ddi.
So in Korea, people with a 12-year age difference would say they have the same ddi and feel a sense of kinship with each other.
The 12 zodiac signs in order are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The tradition originates from ancient China, and according to folklore, the order was set based on the results of a race among the animals. 
A banner in central Seoul celebrates 2022 as the Year of Tiger. [NEWS1]

A banner in central Seoul celebrates 2022 as the Year of Tiger. [NEWS1]

For instance, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, and also the year for the people with tiger ddi. People with tiger ddi are known to be independent and have high self-esteem, making them suitable leaders. But they are also said to be very arrogant and have a hard time building close relationships with others.
The year of 2023 will be the Year of the Rabbit, and people with rabbit ddi are known to be nice and gentle and try to avoid conflicts with others. But they can be a bit passive and lazy.
Other examples would be that people with rat ddi are smart and talented, but quite reckless and impatient. People with ox ddi are patient, diligent, honest, and have a strong sense of responsibility.

What drives Koreans' fascination with grouping and labeling others?

It starts from Korean culture which is classified as highly collectivistic. Predicting people’s personalities based on their blood type and zodiac is particularly popular in Asian countries like Korea, Japan and China, which are all traditionally described as having collectivistic cultures. 
This differs from Western countries that are highly individualistic.
Koreans tend to easily feel anxious when they think they don’t belong to any groups, so they push themselves to be involved so they can belong somewhere. They like to feel the sense of community from being with others in the same group, and feel relief when they feel they are not alone.
“A Korean nun who first brought the MBTI assessment to Korea felt that she was somehow different from others,” said Kim Jae-hyoung, a head researcher of the Korea MBTI Institute. “Then she found out about the test while studying in the United States, and discovered she was not the only one with that personality.”
“That experience gave her a kind of relief, and that's why she decided to bring the test to Korea.”
But having a collectivistic society does not mean everyone is equal — hierarchy and divisions certainly do exist. The younger generation tends to be more characteristic than the older generation, and they are more open to exposing themselves as they are.
Koreans’ almost counterintuitive tendency to be involved in groups, but desire to be distinguished from others, has brought those tools to categorize people into the spotlight. 
People wait in line in front of a saju (four pillars of destiny) cafe in Daegu on Jan 2. [NEWS1]

People wait in line in front of a saju (four pillars of destiny) cafe in Daegu on Jan 2. [NEWS1]


Why is the younger generation particularly crazy about it?

This can be understood as being largely due to the country's competitive society that pushes young people to know about themselves. The younger generation, especially millennials and Generation Z, collectively called the MZ Generation, has been brought up to make their own decisions and take full responsibility for those decisions.
The young people now were born in a much better era than the older generation, but times are still tough as the economy is slowing down and it's hard to find a job. They were told to be more independent, and to do so, they first have to understand themselves. But they lack opportunities and instead rely on those tools that define their personalities for them.
The Covid-19 pandemic fueled their anxiety. The younger generation is very eager for self-improvement, but the many opportunities to do so have been wiped out due to the pandemic. They continuously seek to know themselves and develop.
“The younger generation feels more anxious since the pandemic, and they find the personality tests help reduce their anxiety,” said Lim Myung-ho, a psychology professor at Dankook University. “When they realize that they have the same MBTI as someone they look up to, they finally feel relief.” 
People look at papers detailing their fortune for the year on Jan. 2 in Daegu. [NEWS1]

People look at papers detailing their fortune for the year on Jan. 2 in Daegu. [NEWS1]


Then is it purely cultural and psychological? 

There are some different views on this. Experts say Koreans' desire to know about their future and fate could also be a contributing factor. Korea as a country has developed very quickly, rapidly advancing its economy. They are very concerned about their future, so they like to rely on fortune-telling methods like saju and physiognomy to learn their fate.
Saju, which literally means the four pillars of destiny, is another astrological concept in which a person's destiny or fate is decided by the year, month, day and hour of their birth.
Physiognomy divides a face into three parts with each representing one's life by age.
The forehead to the eyebrow refers to the early stage of people's lives between the ages of 15 to 30. People with no wrinkles on their forehead are likely to become wealthy, according to the physiognomy, while those with twisty wrinkles will have many ups and downs.
The area with the eyes and nose represents people's lives from 30 to 50. Nose bridges are believed to be connected to people's backbones, so people with an aquiline nose will have a high risk of having an arched spine. People with small eyes are likely to be smart and achieve success in an academic field, while those with slanted eyes are believed to have artistic talents. Having a mole on your eyelid may also be used to predict how well your marriage will go.
The area below the nose to the chin refers to the later years of a person's life, from the age of 50. People with big mouths are likely to become leaders, while small mouths have to be careful with their health.
Palmistry, or palm reading, is another tool believed to tell about one's fortune and destiny. The four biggest lines on the hand — representing the life line, head line, heart line, and fate line — reflect a person's life and health, intelligence and mentality, emotions such as friendship and love, and fortune and career. Other lines include success, sun and marriage lines. Females must refer to their right hands, and males their left.
A special thanks to: Kim Jae-hyoung, a head researcher of the Korea MBTI Institute, Lim Myung-ho, a psychology professor at Dankook University, Choi Set-byol, a sociology professor at Ewha Womans University, and Na Jin-kyung, a psychology professor at Sogang University.

BY SARAH CHEA [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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