Type A Personality

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Type A personality

A collection of traits consisting of competitiveness, urgency, high achievement, and irritability.

In the 1970s, psychologists started investigating possible links between personality and health. Initial research seemed to indicate that persons with a type A Personality were at higher risk for coronary heart diseasea medical condition that consists of a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. Type A people are achievement oriented, irritable, impatient with delays, and seem to be always in a hurry. The association between heart disease and type A behaviors was evident, even when other risk factors such as smoking, obesity , or family history were ruled out. In contrast to type As, type B people are less competitive, and more easygoing than their type A counterparts. In a traffic jam, a type A might curse, fume, and change lanes. A type B might relax and listen to the car stereo. While most people do not fall into the extreme ends of the continuum, there are significant numbers of people who do seem to be far more intense and reactive than others.

These initial findings provoked widespread public interest. Checklists in the popular press allowed people to identify their own personality type. But subsequent studies showed that the relationship between type A behavior and heart disease was less clear than the initial study had suggested. In the initial 1974 study, over 3,000 men aged 35 to 59 were interviewed and classified as either type A or type B. Of those who suffered a heart attack during the next nine years, 69% were type As. However, if they survived the first attack, they subsequently lived longer than the type Bs. What could account for this apparent contradiction? It turns out that the description of type A behavior needs to be more carefully refined if we are to learn anything useful about its link with heart disease. Type As are not only reactive, they are also achievement oriented and highly motivated to succeed. They enjoy challenge and like to know how well they are doing. These qualities are likely to cause heart attack victims to change their lifestyles in order to prevent a recurrence.

More recent research has demonstrated that the feature of type A behavior that is particularly "toxic" is hostility . Men who are cynical, resentful, chronically angry, and mistrustful are far more likely than non-hostile men to get heart disease. The picture is less clear for women because fewer women have been included in the studies. The physiological explanation of the link between hostility and heart disease continues to be a focus of research.

Timothy Moore

Further Reading

Miller, T., et al. A meta-analytic review of research on hostility and physical health. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 322-348, 1996.