The Type A behaviour pattern is an observable set of behaviours or style of living characterized by extremes of hostility, competitiveness, hurry, impatience, restlessness, aggressiveness (sometimes stringently suppressed), explosiveness of speech, and a high state of alertness accompanied by muscular tension. People with strong Type A behaviour struggle against the pressure of time and the challenge of responsibility (Jenkins 1979). Type A is neither an external stressor nor a response of strain or discomfort. It is more like a style of coping. At the other end of this bipolar continuum, Type B persons are more relaxed, cooperative, steady in their pace of activity, and appear more satisfied with their daily lives and the people around them.
The Type A/B behavioural continuum was first conceptualized and labelled in 1959 by the cardiologists Dr. Meyer Friedman and Dr. Ray H. Rosenman. They identified Type A as being typical of their younger male patients with ischaemic heart disease (IHD).
The intensity and frequency of Type A behaviour increases as societies become more industrialized, competitive and hurried. Type A behaviour is more frequent in urban than rural areas, in managerial and sales occupations than among technical workers, skilled craftsmen or artists, and in businesswomen than in housewives.
Areas of Research
Type A behaviour has been studied as part of the fields of personality and social psychology, organizational and industrial psychology, psychophysiology, cardiovascular disease and occupational health.
Research relating to personality and social psychology has yielded considerable understanding of the Type A pattern as an important psychological construct. Persons scoring high on Type A measures behave in ways predicted by Type A theory. They are more impatient and aggressive in social situations and spend more time working and less in leisure. They react more strongly to frustration.
Research that incorporates the Type A concept into organizational and industrial psychology includes comparisons of different occupations as well as employees’ responses to job stress. Under conditions of equivalent external stress, Type A employees tend to report more physical and emotional strain than Type B employees. They also tend to move into high-demand jobs (Type A behavior 1990).
Pronounced increases in blood pressure, serum cholesterol and catecholamines in Type A persons were first reported by Rosenman and al. (1975) and have since been confirmed by many other investigators. The tenor of these findings is that Type A and Type B persons are usually quite similar in chronic or baseline levels of these physiological variables, but that environmental demands, challenges or frustrations create far larger reactions in Type A than Type B persons. The literature has been somewhat inconsistent, partly because the same challenge may not physiologically activitate men or women of different backgrounds. A preponderance of positive findings continues to be published (Contrada and Krantz 1988).
The history of Type A/B behaviour as a risk factor for ischeamic heart disease has followed a common historical trajectory: a trickle then a flow of positive findings, a trickle then a flow of negative findings, and now intense controversy (Review Panel on Coronary-Prone Behavior and Coronary Heart Disease 1981). Broad-scope literature searches now reveal a continuing mixture of positive associations and non-associations between Type A behaviour and IHD. The general trend of the findings is that Type A behaviour is more likely to be positively associated with a risk of IHD:
- in cross-sectional and case-control studies rather than prospective studies
- in studies of general populations and occupational groups rather than studies limited to persons with cardiovascular disease or who score high on other IHD risk factors
- in younger study groups (under age 60) rather than older populations
- in countries still in the process of industrialization or still at the peak of their economic development.
The Type A pattern is not “dead” as an IHD risk factor, but in the future must be studied with the expectation that it may convey greater IHD risk only in certain sub-populations and in selected social settings. Some studies suggest that hostility may be the most damaging component of Type A.
A newer development has been the study of Type A behaviour as a risk factor for injuries and mild and moderate illnesses both in occupational and student groups. It is rational to hypothesize that people who are hurried and aggressive will incur the most accidents at work, in sports and on the highway. This has been found to be empirically true (Elander, West and French 1993). It is less clear theoretically why mild acute illnesses in a full array of physiologic systems should occur more often to Type A than Type B persons, but this has been found in a few studies (e. g. Suls and Sanders 1988). At least in some groups, Type A was found to be associated with a higher risk of future mild episodes of emotional distress. Future research needs to address both the validity of these associations and the physical and psychological reasons behind them.
Methods of Measurement
The Type A/B behaviour pattern was first measured in research settings by the Structured Interview (SI). The SI is a carefully administered clinical interview in which about 25 questions are asked at different rates of speed and with different degrees of challenge or intrusiveness. Special training is necessary for an interviewer to be certified as competent both to administer and interpret the SI. Typically, interviews are tape-recorded to permit subsequent study by other judges to ensure reliability. In comparative studies among several measures of Type A behaviour, the SI seems to have greater validity for cardiovascular and psychophysiological studies than is found for self-report questionnaires, but little is known about its comparative validity in psychological and occupational studies because the SI is used much less frequently in these settings.
The most common self-report instrument is the Jenkins Activity Survey (JAS), a self-report, computer-scored, multiple-choice questionnaire. It has been validated against the SI and against the criteria of current and future IHD, and has accumulated construct validity. Form C, a 52-item version of the JAS published in 1979 by the Psychological Corporation, is the most widely used. It has been translated into most of the languages of Europe and Asia. The JAS contains four scales: a general Type A scale, and factor-analytically derived scales for speed and impatience, job involvement and hard-driving competitiveness. A short form of the Type A scale (13 items) has been used in epidemiological studies by the World Health Organization.
The Framingham Type A Scale (FTAS) is a ten-item questionnaire shown to be a valid predictor of future IHD for both men and women in the Framingham Heart Study (USA). It has also been used internationally both in cardiovascular and psychological research. Factor analysis divides the FTAS into two factors, one of which correlates with other measures of Type A behaviour while the second correlates with measures of neuroticism and irritability.
The Bortner Rating Scale (BRS) is composed of fourteen items, each in the form of an analogue scale. Subsequent studies have performed item-analysis on the BRS and have achieved greater internal consistency or greater predictability by shortening the scale to 7 or 12 items. The BRS has been widely used in international translations. Additional Type A scales have been developed internationally, but these have mostly been used only for specific nationalities in whose language they were written.
Systematic efforts have been under way for at least two decades to help persons with intense Type A behaviour patterns to change them to more of a Type B style. Perhaps the largest of these efforts was in the Recurrent Coronary Prevention Project conducted in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1980s. Repeated follow-up over several years documented that changes were achieved in many people and also that the rate of recurrent myocardial infarction was reduced in persons receiving the Type A behaviour reduction efforts as opposed to those receiving only cardiovascular counselling (Thoreson and Powell 1992).
Intervention in the Type A behaviour pattern is difficult to accomplish successfully because this behavioural style has so many rewarding features, particularly in terms of career advancement and material gain. The programme itself must be carefully crafted according to effective psychological principles, and a group process approach appears to be more effective than individual counselling.