The Origin of Type A Personalities

The other day I came across some interesting information about a personality type I’d heard about, but never knew where it originated.

You don’t have to work in a corporate environment for very long before you hear a humble-brag that usually starts something like this: “I’m such a Type A, that’s why I… (insert self-promotion about overachieving, working hard, etc.).

There’s no shortage of personality tests out there… Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, DISC, CliftonStrengths, The Big Five… But Type A? Where did this come from, and if there’s a type A, what are the other types? Much to my surprise, the origins of the classification aren’t even from the realm of psychology. It was more of a… matter of the heart.

In the 1950’s Meyer Friedman, a cardiologist and his partner Ray Roseman noticed (probably while conversing in a cigarette-smoke-filled hospital room) that many of their patients who were prone to heart disease shared similar personality traits. According to them, their patients demonstrated:

…a complex of personality traits, including excessive competition drive, aggressiveness, impatience, and a harrying sense of time urgency. Individuals displaying this pattern seem to be engaged in a chronic, ceaseless, and often fruitless struggle — with themselves, with others, with circumstances, with time, sometimes with life itself.

Not a particularly flattering portrait. Friedman & Roseman went on to say that this group of people were significantly more likely to suffer from heart disease than their other patients — even when compared to patients who were similar physically and had matching proclivities for exercise and food.

As you’ve guessed by now, the doctors dubbed this group of people “Type A.”

The Type B group, on the other hand, was generally as intelligent and ambitious as the other group, they just acted upon it differently. The doctors postulated that Type B’s also shared a considerable amount of drive, but its character was such that it seemed to steady the person, and give confidence and security instead of goading, irritating, and infuriating as with the Type A group.

Their conclusion, was to recommend that Type A’s learn to become more like Type B’s in order to reduce risk of death from heart disease and to improve general public health.

In the 70 years following the study, I think it’s interesting to see how the original negative connotations of the Type A personality group have evolved into something more akin to a badge of honor to be flashed at an unsuspecting audience. Like the person is bragging, “I may die an early death from all this stress, but at least I’m very busy.”

Friedman, for what it’s worth, said he was classic Type A, but emphasized that, “Type A personalities who succeed do so in spite of their impatience and hostility.”

Listed among the more notable Type Bs? Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Our updates, your inbox

* indicates required

After subscribing, look for our confirmation email. If it goes to your junk or spam folder, add us to your safe senders list!

Recent Posts

More Posts