In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms. This week’s term is type A personality.
The first question that popped into my mind when I thought of delving into this topic was are there other letters? Because you only ever seem to hear about type A. So let’s get to it.
Type A and its opposite type B were first proposed by two cardiologists, Drs. Friedman and Rosenman, in the 1950s to predict the risk of developing heart disease. They determined that type A personalities had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. However, this finding was based on a sample of middle-aged men, and it was later learned that there was influence from the tobacco industry to support any findings that distracted from the clearly emerging effect of tobacco on health. Damn, they were slimy buggers.
According to Wikipedia, type A describes people who are competitive, highly organized, outgoing, impatient, anxious, and highly concerned with time management. These people are often workaholics and experience high levels of work-related stress. They tend to be impatient, impulsive, and quick to anger.
Types B & D
Type B personalities are defined less by what they are and more by what they aren’t; they’re the opposite of type A. They tend to have lower stress levels and are less competitive and more tolerant. They enjoy exploring ideas and may be more likely to work in creative fields.
Another lettered personality type was later identified in the field of medical psychology, type D (distressed). According to Wikipedia, this includes a combination of negative affectivity (e.g. worry, irritability) and social inhibition. Type D’s tend to keep their negative thoughts to themselves due to fear they may be rejected by others. Some studies have found a correlation between type D and worse cardiac outcomes, although these findings have been inconsistent.
Measuring type A, B, and D
Type A/B personalities can be measured using the Jenkins Activity Survey. A modified online version is available here. Scores range from 35 (highly type A) to 380 (highly type B). I scored a 204, with my tendency to be organized and always on time pushing me toward the type A side, even though I feel like overall I’m a very different person than the picture painted with the type A personality.
Type D personalities can be measured using the DS14 Standard Assessment of Negative Affectivity, Social Inhibition, and Type D Personality. I couldn’t find an easy online version that would spit a score out for you, but I did find a version here that involves doing some addition. I scored sufficiently high on both negative affectivity and social inhibition to be considered a type D personality, but then again the answers to a lot of the questions would have been quite different if I was answering them while not under the influence of depression.
To me, it seems a bit ridiculous to think that we can classify everyone into 2 (or perhaps 3) personality types. And while type A may capture a certain type of individual reasonably well, it doesn’t seem nuanced enough to separate out those who exhibit only a few type A characteristics but exhibit them quite strongly. This was the first time I’d ever really done any looking into type A personalities, and I had no idea that they were first proposed by cardiologists and that their development was promoted by the tobacco industry. Given what I’ve learned, I’m not particularly inclined to buy into this typology.
Do you think you fall into one of these personality types?
The Psychology Corner page includes an index of the terms that have been covered in the What Is… (Insights into Psychology) series, as well as a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.