Type A and type B personality is one of the most researched personality constructs in relation to health and work behavior. In contrast to its type B counterpart, the type A personality is characterized by specific behavioral dispositions, such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, lack of patience, and excessive striving for achievement. Type A individuals tend to try to accomplish as much as possible in little time, set high expectations for themselves, and are very self-critical.
Although the type A individual is often negatively portrayed (e.g., as easily angered, hostile, and impatient), the personality construct is actually dichotomous, comprising both desirable and undesirable components. The first component, achievement striving, refers to positive characteristics such as being hardworking and active and taking work seriously. The second component, impatience-irritability, consists of more negative characteristics, including impatience, irritability, hostility, and an obsession with time. Some research has found these two components to be unrelated to each other. Other research has shown a low but positive correlation, suggesting that the components are related but not identical. The differential relationships of each of the two components to other variables do suggest that they are distinct.
Type A Personality and Health
Type A individuals are more vulnerable than type B individuals to poor health. Type A individuals are more likely to experience, for instance, depression, increased frequency of nightmares, respiratory infections, and migraine headaches. One major health issue for which type A personality has been most implicated is coronary heart disease (CHD). In the Western Collaborative Group Study, which was the first study to examine the relationship between type A personality and CHD, researchers found that, among nearly 3,200 men without CHD symptoms at the beginning of the study, those categorized as type A were twice as likely as those categorized as type B to develop symptoms within 8.5 years. Data from autopsies of participants who died during the course of the study showed that type A personality was positively related to CHD.
Although these early studies suggested a relationship between CHD and type A personality, many other studies have yielded nonsignificant findings. Given such inconclusive findings, some researchers have proposed that the relationship between type A personality and CHD is weaker than suggested by the early findings. More recent research has shown, however, that the reason for any nonsignificant findings may be that type A personality has often been assessed as an overall construct. Studies that have examined the construct as the two separate components of achievement striving and impatience-irritability have found stronger and more consistent relationships between the latter component and CHD.
Two explanations, both of which are related to suppressed immunity, may account for the relationship between type A personality and ill health. First, type A individuals are more likely than type B individuals to perceive and experience stress. To the extent that psychological stress reduces immune competence, the immune systems of type A individuals may be suppressed enough to increase their vulnerability to illness. The second explanation is the fact that chronic hyperactivity may compromise the immune system. As type A individuals are chronically hyperactive in their impatience and attempt to accomplish many things in less time, their immune systems may be compromised, thereby possibly facilitating various illnesses.
Type A Personality and Work-Related Variables
Next to health-related consequences, type A personality has been most frequently examined in regard to its relationship to work-related variables. Individuals categorized as type A tend to exhibit higher performance and productivity than their type B counterparts. Specifically, type A employees work longer and more overtime hours. In the academic arena, a difference in performance is also seen between type A versus type
B students, in that the former tend to earn higher grades. Faculty members who are categorized as type A individuals are more productive researchers than type B individuals.
However, because the type A personality comprises both a positive and negative component (i.e., achievement striving and impatience-irritability, respectively), there exists a double-edged sword in regard to the personality’s implications for work-related consequences. Specifically speaking, although type A individuals exhibit higher performance because of their excessive need to strive for achievement, their tendency to be hostile and impatient may also mean they lack effective interpersonal relationships because they are more likely to be poor listeners and abrasive. Furthermore, type A individuals also experience more somatic complaints and greater perceived stress. Therefore, hiring employees on the basis of positive type A behaviors and traits may also mean inadvertently employing individuals who harbor the less desirable characteristics.
In addition to performance, type A personality has also been found to be related to other work-related variables. Specifically, research has suggested that type A individuals are more satisfied with their jobs than their type B counterparts; however, such a positive relationship is dependent on whether the employee perceives a sense of control. For those who do not feel control over their work, type A employees are likely to feel more dissatisfied. For type A employees who perceive high control, however, their satisfaction with their jobs is greater than that experienced by type B employees. Research has also suggested that type A employees respond more negatively to jobs that are high in complexity. Over time, type A employees who have highly complex jobs are more likely than type B employees to develop symptoms of cardiovascular illness.
Type A personality is a multidimensional construct, with both health- and work-related consequences. Further understanding of this construct will benefit both the individual and the organization. For the individual, knowledge of where one stands on this personality construct may help provide guidance in career-making decisions. Type A individuals may, for instance, want to avoid jobs high in complexity and in which they have little control, as such jobs have been found to be related to dissatisfaction and cardiovascular illness. Organizations should also take heed of where employees stand in terms of type A personality, as this may help provide guidance in selecting employees and designing jobs that would most enhance employee-job fit.
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