Type A personality refers to a type of personality that is characterized by perfectionism, a high degree of stress, impatience and inappropriate expressions of anger or frustration. Underlying this personality type is a low self-esteem that drives a person to “overstrive” and compete. The term was coined in the 1950s by cardiologists, Dr. Meyer Friedman and Dr. Ray Rosenman. They theorized that people who were labeled Type A were much more likely to suffer heart attacks. The term quickly came into public use, and became even more commonly known as a result of a book published in 1974 by the two doctors Type A Behavior and Your Heart.
In the 1970s, Rosenman, C. David Jenkins, and Stephen Zyzanski developed quick 15-minute tests to determine the Type A personality, or the more relaxed Type B. These were multiple-choice tests that could be self-administered. Some people did not fit either category and were classed as AB. Psychology in general has largely dismissed these categories as far too generalized, especially as diagnosed by 15-minute tests. Instead, modern psychometric testing leans more often toward describing behavior types that allow for a much greater range in personality traits.
Despite dismissing the classification of Type A personality, it is certainly true that people who are under a great deal of stress are more likely to suffer from heart disease and are at greater risk for heart attack. Stress is not the only factor, but it remains an important one. People who are rigid perfectionists or exhibit classic Type A traits frequently engage in a barrage of self-attack, in addition to criticizing others. The underlying low self-esteem influences not just competitiveness, but self-attacking behavior can place the mind and the body in a constant state of stress.
The classic Type A personality tends to react angrily toward others, which makes maintaining relationships difficult. No one can measure up to the Type A’s standards. This can leave the person suffering from alienation, which only reinforces a core concept that the person is somehow unworthy. In modern psychology and testing, the one aspect of this personality that seems a reliable predictor of heart disease is aggression, and most people who would describe themselves as Type A are not truly so.
Some can actually view type A personality as a positive thing, and most connect the ideas of perfectionism with high achievement, rather than with excess anger. If a person says, “I’m a Type A,” he or she is usually describing only perfectionist and perhaps rigid personality traits that keep him or her successful. Being a perfectionist does not necessarily make someone hostile toward others. A person who is successful or competitive may be described positively as Type A, and may exhibit many wonderful qualities of caring for others.
Studies debunking Type A personality suggest that perfectionism doesn’t always predict heart disease. In fact, some athletes would describe themselves this way and would certainly be rigid in maintaining a diet and exercise plan that would keep them well away from risk of heart attack. As with many of these early personality tests, new evidence suggests that human personality is far more complex and can’t be broken down into a few simple types. To do so oversimplifies human character, and makes prediction for disease based on these generalized traits bad medicine.