The Type A and Type B personality theory
is a personality type
theory that describes a pattern of behaviors that were once considered to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease
. Since its inception in the 1950s
, the theory has been widely popularized and also widely criticised for its scientific shortcomings.
Type A individuals can be described as impatient, excessively time-conscious, insecure about their status, highly competitive, hostile and aggressive, and incapable of relaxation. They are often high achieving workaholics who multi-task, drive themselves with deadlines, and are unhappy about the smallest of delays. Because of these characteristics, Type A individuals are often described as "stress junkies." Type B individuals, in contrast, are described as patient, relaxed, and easy-going. There is also a Type AB mixed profile for people who cannot be clearly categorized.
In his 1996 book, Type A Behavior: Its Diagnosis and Treatment, Meyer Friedman suggests that Type A behavior is expressed in three major symptoms. One of these symptoms is believed to be covert and therefore less observable, whereas the other two are more overt.
Symptoms of Type A Behavior
- An intrinsic insecurity or insufficient level of self-esteem, which is considered to be the root cause of the syndrome. This is believed to be covert and therefore less observable.
- Time urgency and impatience, which causes irritation and exasperation.
- Free floating hostility, which can be triggered by even minor incidents.
Type A personality was originally assessed by a 15 minute, structured interview that examined both verbal and nonverbal behavior. This time-consuming method has been largely replaced by the Jenkins activity survey
, a paper-and-pencil questionnaire first published in 1979. Some researchers have suggested that the questionnaire lacks the validity of the structured interview because it cannot assess nonverbal behavior, which is a strong indicator of the Type A personality.
Type A behavior was first described as a potential risk factor in coronary disease in the 1950s by cardiologists Meyer Friedman
and R. H. Rosenman. After a nine-year study of over 3000 healthy men, aged 35-59, Friedman & Rosenman estimated that Type A behavior doubles the risk of coronary heart disease in otherwise healthy individuals. This research had an enormous effect in stimulating the development of the field of health psychology
, in which psychologists look at how a person's mental state affects his or her physical health.
Type A/B theory has been criticized on a number of grounds. For example, statisticians
have argued that the original study by Friedman and Rosenman had serious limitations, including large and unequal sample sizes, and less than 1% of the variance in relationship explained by Type A personality.
Psychometrically, the behaviors that define the syndrome are not highly correlated, indicating that this is a grouping of separate tendencies, not a coherent pattern or type. Type theories in general have been criticised as overly simplistic and incapable of assessing the degrees of difference in human personality.
Researchers have also found that Type A behavior is not a good predictor of coronary heart disease. According to research by Redford Williams of Duke University, the hostility component of Type A personality is the only significant risk factor. Thus, it is a high level of expressed anger and hostility, not the other elements of Type A behavior, that constitute the problem.
Because of these criticisms, Type A theory is considered to be obsolete by many researchers in contemporary health psychology and personality psychology.