Type A and Type B Personality Definition
The type A personality is a collection of behaviors that include impatience and a sense of urgency about accomplishing most tasks; aggressiveness and sometimes hostility toward others, especially those who “get in the way”; and a desire for achievement that leads to exaggerated competitiveness and striving for success. Type A personalities lead fast-paced lives; they speak quickly, walk quickly, eat quickly—all in an attempt to accomplish as much as possible in as little time as possible. By comparison, type B personalities are relaxed and easygoing, less concerned with the pressures of success (but are not lazy), and generally lead less hectic lives.
History and Importance of Personalities and Behavior Patterns
Interest in type A behavior first arose in the 1950s when two cardiologists, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, noticed that patients with coronary problems seemed to behave differently from noncoronary patients. Careful observation led Friedman and Rosenman to describe the type A behavior pattern as “an action-emotion complex that can be observed in any person who is aggressively involved in a chronic, incessant struggle to achieve more and more in less and less time, and if required to do so, against the opposing efforts of other things and other persons.” Subsequent research sought to validate speculation that the type A pattern made a person prone to coronary disease. In one of the most famous early studies, the Western Collaborative Group Study (WCGS), more than 3,000 middle-aged men were followed for 8’/2 years beginning in 1960-1961. All the men were free from coronary disease at the beginning of the study. When data collection was terminated in 1969, nearly twice as many type A personalities as type B personalities had developed coronary heart disease. At the time, type A behavior appeared to be a personality or lifestyle predictor of coronary disease on par with traditional and well-known risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, and hypertension.
Other medical research soon followed and with it came mixed results and controversy. Some studies replicated the WCGS, but others (including longer-term follow-ups of the WCGS sample) did not, and the results for women and various ethnic groups were not always consistent. Much of the confusion could be traced to the way type A behavior was measured in research. The original method for identifying type A behavior is called the structured interview (SI). It is time-consuming and requires special training to administer. Alternative questionnaire measures, the most well-known being the Jenkins Activity Survey, were developed to allow faster and more efficient assessment. Unfortunately, the questionnaires mimic the content of the SI but do not include the challenges that are part of the interview nor do they capture the speech style and nonverbal cues that are crucial to identifying type A behavior during the SI. Not surprisingly, research conducted with the two forms of assessment does not always arrive at similar conclusions because different features of type A behavior are being emphasized. In some ways, this problem was a blessing in disguise because it prompted researchers to explore how particular facets of type A behavior are related to coronary risk.
The key problem with questionnaire measures of type A behavior is that they do not provide direct behavioral evidence for impatience, anger, and hostility. This proved to be crucial because later research found anger and hostility to be more strongly related to coronary heart disease risk than are the other parts of the type A pattern. Questionnaires such as the Jenkins Activity Survey are perhaps best thought of as measures of self-reported job involvement, competitive achievement striving, and time urgency. These are important parts of the type A pattern and can have health-related consequences, but hostility appears to be especially important in the development of coronary disease.
Later research, primarily by psychologists, extended the early work by searching for the motives that give rise to type A behavior. This research showed that type A personalities differ from type B personalities in having a higher need to control their lives and desiring a clear appraisal of their skills. According to this perspective, type A behavior can best be thought of as a tactic for demonstrating control and talent. Situations that are uncontrollable, unpredictable, or create uncertainty about ability are stressful for those with type A personality. Ironically, through their exaggerated attempts to maintain control and achieve success, type A personalities probably create much of the stress that they experience.
Other research has shown that type A personalities’ fast-paced, stress-filled lives make them susceptible to other health problems. Type A personalities tend to focus their attention on their work to ensure success, but in doing so they ignore other potentially important cues such as physical symptoms that can signal a health problem needing attention. The type A pattern has been of particular interest to organizational psychologists. The behaviors of people with type A personality have obvious and important implications in the work world (e.g., they do not delegate responsibility easily), and their work habits have important implications for their relations with others.
If the type A pattern is related to health problems, it might seem sensible that type A personalities would want to change their ways. Type A personalities are not always aware of their behavioral excesses, however, and even when they are aware, they probably do not see much reason to alter their behaviors. After all, their lifestyle is consistent with American values that emphasize hard work, striving for lofty goals, and competition. Indeed, type A behavior, except for the hostility component, is a recipe for success in Western culture. Yet the health problems do lead some people with type A personality to seek help, and their behavior can be modified to lessen the problematic features while maintaining the aspects that have made them successful.
- Friedman, M. (1996). Type A behavior: Its diagnosis and treatment. New York: Springer.
- Friedman, M., & Rosenman, R. (1974). Type A behavior and your heart. New York: Knopf.
- Glass, D. C. (1977). Behavior patterns, stress, and coronary disease. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Strube, M. J., Hanson, J. S., & Newman, L. (2003). The virtues and vices of personal control. In E. Chang & L. Sanna (Eds.), Virtue, vice, and personality: The complexity of behavior. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.