All of us know someone that could be classified as "type A personality," especially if we live in a country like the United States where traits like ambition are highly prized. The office worker striving for management level and the friend who always needs to be busy are familiar examples of a type A personality. Even though everyone has an idea of what in means to be "type A," it is more complex than that. Often misunderstood, type A personality is much more than the "workaholic."


Stereotypes about the type A personality abound. People with a type A personality are often stereotyped as the "workaholic" who never takes time to relax, the ambitious social and career climber, and the super competitive person on the field, in the classroom, or at work. In popular culture, type A personality has become synonymous with powerful, dominant, and successful.

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Although personality is an area of study in psychology, type A personality was actually discovered and researched by two cardiologists, Dr. Friedman and Dr. Rosenman, in the 1950's. Their research began after they noticed the behavior of some of their patients in the waiting room, and they went on to link type A personality traits to certain health conditions.

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The characteristics and behavior patterns of type A personality include:

  • Self-critical
  • Highly competitive
  • "Tightly wound" in general
  • Quick to over-react
  • Easily pushed to show anger, hostility, envy, and lack of compassion
  • Impatient with delays and times of non-productivity
  • Seeing the worst in others

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According to a recent study conducted by the Creative Healing Institute, 50% of people in the United States are considered to have a type A personality. The study went on to explain that 100% of the population exhibits some degree of type A personality behavior.

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Type A vs. Type B

Type B personality is thought to be the opposite of type A. Type B is described as patient, relaxed, not competitive, and generally more tolerant. Research also suggests that people with the type B personality use more creativity and imagination than people with type A personality.

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Type A vs. Type C

Type C personality is a category that we don't hear much about, but it appears to be more similar to type B than type A. People with type C personality are thought to become apathetic when faced with stress. Type C personality is also characterized by conflict avoidance, patience, high social desirability, and general "pathological niceness."

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Physical Health Implications

Dr. Friedman and Dr. Rosenman discovered a link between type A personality and an increased likelihood of "stress-related" illnesses like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an increased risk of heart disease among men. According to a longitudinal study, men with type A personality are twice as likely to develop stress-related illnesses than their type B counterparts, but there was no significant differences in health between the personalities for women.

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Mental Health Implications

Dr. Friedman and Dr. Rosenman also discovered a link between personality and mental health. In their research, the doctors discovered that people with a type A personality were more likely to suffer from anxiety than those with type B personality, and that type A people were more likely to have the fight or flight response activated by something in their environment, which can contribute to panic disorders over time.

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Modern Research

Modern research in psychology suggests that instead of Dr. Friedman's and Dr. Rosenman's categorical grouping of traits, a spectrum is more accurate. The research, done by a post-doctoral student at the University of Toronto, even goes so far as to propose that the type A personality doesn't exist naturally and is instead a learned set of behaviors that everyone has to a degree.

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Some experts feel classifying people as specifically type A or type B based on a set of behaviors is outdated. They propose that personality tests like The Big Five test or the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory are more accurate tools since they assess on a spectrum. Another issue arises when we recognize that the studies by Dr. Friedman and Dr. Rosenman were only conducted on white, middle-class men.

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