The Type A behavior pattern (TABP) was introduced almost 40 years ago by Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman as a risk factor in explaining coronary heart disease (CHD). TABP is a stable individual difference characteristic that has captured considerable attention in medical and psychological research circles. An important series of studies has strongly implicated TABP in the pathogenesis of CHD independent of standard risk factors such as age, hypertension, diet, and heredity, generally associated with the condition.
Certain identifying elements of TABP include exaggerated expressions of achievement striving, a strong sense of time urgency and competitiveness, and an aggressive demeanor. The Type A individual is described as an unrelenting worker, dominated by the success ethic, eager to outperform others and to constantly better his or her productivity. A psychological vigilance, hurried and restless movements, polyphasic behavior, and overtones of free-floating hostility are other Type A features. Type B’s are characterized as individuals displaying opposing behavioral characteristics and having a more relaxed, calmer approach to life in general. Research evidence finds that Type A individuals’ risk of developing CHD and of having fatal heart attacks is approximately twice that of Type B’s in the population.
It has been reported that more than 50 percent of a workforce in a large urban city would be classified as Type A. In a study of managers from 12 different companies, John Howard, David Cunningham, and Peter Rechnitzer found that 61 percent were Type A’s, 44 percent of whom exhibited the highest levels of TABP. TABP has also been shown to be higher among those at higher socioeconomic status and education. TABP is likely promoted by one’s work environment. It has been found, for example, to be higher in fast-growing companies, and individuals at higher levels of TABP describe their jobs as more demanding and stressful.
A number of researchers have tried to identify specific components within the Type A constellation that were particularly critical in the development of CHD. Anger, hostility, and aggression have emerged as important Type A elements in the development of CHD. Several of the Type A components encompass achievement-oriented motivations and behaviors such as ambition, competitiveness, and time urgency. These Type A components have been found to be associated with superior academic and professional performance. It seemed unlikely that the same Type A components would be related to both stronger academic and professional performance and to CHD and other health problems. That is, some components of Type A are more likely to be related to performance, while others are more likely to be related to health problems.
Analyses of the measures most frequently used to assess TABP bear this out. For example, Janet Spence, Robert Helmreich, and Robert Pred report the results of factor analyses of the Jenkins Activity Survey, the most widely used paper-and-pencil assessment of TABP. They identified two factors: Achievement Striving (AS) and Impatience-Irritability (II). In a study of university students, they found that AS and II were relatively independent; AS was associated with academic grade point average but not physical complaints, while II was associated with physical complaints but not grade point average. These findings suggest that considering the two TABP components separately has merit.
The TABP is also reflected in the workplace. As opposed to their Type B counterparts, Type A’s work more hours per week, travel more days per year, take less vacation and sick time off work, and are more job involved and organizationally committed. Type A’s are also more likely to experience high self-esteem at work. This encourages Type A’s to be more invested and committed to their work than their Type B counterparts. Type A’s are not necessarily more satisfied in their jobs, however. Type A behavior has typically been found to bear no relationship to job satisfaction. Two questions still remain unanswered: (1) Are Type A’s more productive or effective in their jobs than Type B’s? and (2) Are Type A’s more likely to be promoted and found at the top of organizations? The limited data that is available suggest that Type A’s were in fact more likely to receive greater organizational rewards than were Type B’s. In addition, Type A’s were more likely to be promoted and to have higher performance ratings than were Type B’s.
Ronald Burke and Eugene Deszca reported that Type A’s were more likely to report mid-career experiences of personal and social alienation and pessimism, which has been referred to as career success and personal failure, than Type B’s. Thus, although Type A’s invest more of themselves in their work role and report greater occupational self-esteem, they are not necessarily more satisfied in their jobs and run the risk of increased feelings of personal failure later in their careers.
Type A’s report less marital satisfaction and a more adverse effect of their job demands on personal, home, and family lives. Spouses of male Type A job incumbents agree with their husbands, and also report less marital satisfaction and a more adverse effect of their partner’s job demands on personal, home, and family lives. Thus there probably is a link between Type A behavior and marital distress and ultimately marital dissolution. It is also likely that Type A individuals are less involved with their children. Friedman and Rosenman provide anecdotal information that is consistent with the research conclusions that Type A individuals and their partners report a less satisfying home and family life.
Most TABP research considers its effects on individuals and only sometimes on their partners. In addition, relatively little attention has been paid to the possible role of TABP in the satisfaction and performance of groups. Can Type A’s and Type B’s work productively together, given the stress, anger, and issues of control? How will Type A’s and Type B’s deal with the intragroup conflict?
Giora Keinan and Miri Koren examined TABP and the performance and satisfaction of members of work groups. They considered group performance and mutual satisfaction of Type A’s and Type B’s assigned to homogeneous and heterogeneous three-member work teams working on competitive and noncompetitive tasks.
Teams consisting primarily of Type A’s were more productive than teams consisting primarily of Type B’s, and this difference was greater on competitive tasks. In addition, both Type A’s and Type B’s were generally more satisfied when working with same type members.
Others have examined the effects of Type A/Type B group composition on interpersonal relationships. It has been found that Type A’s promoted their own positions and attacked antagonistic positions more than Type B’s; Type A’s engaged in more pro-self and anti-other behaviors than did Type B’s. In addition, Type A’s prefer to work alone and doubt their partner’s ability to be of help to them. Type A’s also react with irritation and irritability when others interrupt or distract them. Type A’s also exhibit aggressive and competitive communications and interactions and are unwilling to relinquish control to a partner even when the partner could contribute positively to successful task accomplishment and provide a benefit to both.
Given the increased use of work teams in organizations, TABP now becomes more important. And though there is some evidence that TABP is positively related to job performance, the increasing use of work teams and the importance of trust in relationships within and outside the organization may increasingly make TABP a job performance and career liability.
The research on TABP and group functioning has some practical applications. First, assigning people to teams of like individuals based on TABP scores would increase team performance. Second, assigning teams of high TABP scorers the most difficult and challenging tasks would increase team performance. Third, training individuals with high and low TABP scores to increase mutual understanding and tolerance of the two types and improve their conflict resolutions skills will reduce levels of intragroup conflict.
TABP has several direct implications for careers in organizations. Individuals scoring high on TABP run the risk of premature death from CHD. This raises issues of succession planning and the development of managerial bench strength to replace individuals dying from CHD. Individuals who survive a heart attack are also likely to require considerable time for recuperation, raising issues of job performance, organizational continuity, and temporary replacement.
In addition, TABP also affects the way individuals pursue their jobs and their careers. On the positive side, competitiveness, involvement, and energy are likely to be rewarded. On the negative side, anger, impatience, irritation, and aggravation are likely to interfere with relationships in the workplace. These emotions and behaviors are likely to be flaws or character deficits that limit career advancement. Finally, the negative effects of TABP on marital relationships and family functioning are likely to add to the heightened levels of stress experienced by individuals exhibiting TABP.
Friedman and Diane Ulmer have shown that TABP can be changed (reduced), and those reducing their levels of TABP also reduced the onset of clinical CHD. They carried out a longitudinal experiment in which a control group received standard cardiovascular counseling while an experimental group received the same cardiovascular counseling as well as TABP counseling. All participants were postinfarction patients under the age of 65 who are nonsmokers or reformed smokers. A third group was given only an annual examination (the comparison group). Counselors received training in understanding and managing their own TABP.
Individuals receiving TABP counseling initially met on a monthly basis in small groups with a trained counselor. Efforts were made in group discussion and practice outside these group sessions to alleviate time urgency and free-floating hostility—two central and overt components of TABP. This involved drills to be completed on particular days (e.g., every Monday in June, walk, talk, and eat more slowly; every Monday in July, leave your watch off, buy a small but thoughtfully chosen gift for your spouse/partner or some other family member). In addition, individuals received feedback from their fellow group members on their TABP and support in embarking on the difficult task of changing harmful habits learned over one’s lifetime. This counseling program lasted three years. TABP, as reflected in self-report questionnaires and coded interviews, dropped in the TABP counseling groups, as did recurrent heart attacks.
Type A behavior poses a threat to careers, personality, and life itself. Type A behavior threatens careers through impatience, anger, and burnout. Type A tendencies threaten personality by increasing interpersonal conflict and narrowing the possibilities for joy (limiting oneself to things that can be counted— becoming boring and dull). Finally, Type A threatens life by fostering the development of CHD. It is possible, though challenging, to preserve the achievement-oriented components of TABP (AS) while reducing the destructive components (II).
- Burke, R. J. and Deszca, E. 1982. “Type A Behavior and Career Success and Personal Failure.” Journal of Occupational Behavior 3:161-170.
- Burke, R. J. and Weir, T. 1980. “The Type A Experience: Occupational and Life Demands, Satisfaction and Well-Being.” Journal of Human Stress 6:28-38.
- Friedman, M. and Rosenman, R. 1974. Type A Behavior and Your Heart. New York: Knopf.
- Friedman, M. and Ulmer, D. 1984. Treating Type A Behavior and Your Heart. New York: Alfred Knopf.
- Howard, J. M., Cunningham, D. A. and Rechnitzer, P. A. 1976. “Health Patterns Associated with Type A Behavior: A Managerial Population.” Journal of Human Stress 2:24-31.
- Howard, J. M., Cunningham, D. A. and Rechnitzer, P. A. 1977. “Work Patterns Associated with Type A Behavior: A Managerial Population.” Human Relations 36:825-836.
- Keinan, G. and Koren, M. 2002. “Teaming Up Type A’s and B’s: The Effects of Group Composition on Performance and Satisfaction.” Applied Psychology: An International Review 51:425-445.
- Rosenman, R. H. 1993. “Relationship of the Type A Behavior Pattern with Coronary Heart Disease.” Pp. 449-476 in Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects, edited by L. Golberger and S. Breznitz. New York: Free Press.
- Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R. L. and Pred, R. S. 1987. “Impatience versus Achievement Striving in the Type A Pattern: Differential Effects on Students’ Health and Academic Achievement.” Journal of Applied Psychology 72:522-528.
- Williams, R. and Williams, V. 1993. Anger Kills. New York: Random House.