Summary: Researchers say there is no “type” in the common pop psychology concept of a “Type A” personality.
Source: University of Toronto.
You know the type. Hard-driving, competitive, impatient. They call it Type A.
But new U of T research suggests that this common pop-psychology concept is really not a type at all.
“For a long time Type A has been one of the most familiar personality traits, but it turns out there’s no evidence for the ‘type’ in it,” says Michael Wilmot, a postdoc in the Department of Management at U of T Scarborough.
Still, he says there’s a lot to be learned from the research that led to this term. Type A is often used by people to describe an impatient perfectionist – someone who is extremely competitive, hard-driving, always in a hurry, and obsessed with their work.
The trait was first described in the 1950s by a pair of cardiologists who were looking for potential risk factors for heart disease. It resulted in decades of research and scholarly debate about whether or not Type A was a source of heart disease, finding that only a few of the characteristics associated with Type A (hard-driving/competitiveness and hostility) were the real risk factors.
What eventually emerged was the idea that Type A is better described as a ‘multi-dimensional syndrome,’ which is a cluster of traits that go together rather than an actual typology. But then a landmark 1989 study argued that Type A is a naturally occurring type– that is, people are either Type A or Type B. This finding supported the prevailing view in popular culture, but as Wilmot points out, that study was never replicated.
“To determine questions about typology, researchers use a set of procedures called taxometric methods,” says Wilmot, whose research with Associate Professor Brian Connelly looks at how organizations use personality measures to solve workplace challenges.
One of Wilmot’s coauthors, Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, recently wrote a paper urging researchers to re-examine older studies that used taxometric methods.
“He found that many that reported typological evidence were likely false-positives due to their use of now outdated methods. These studies claimed a typology was present when in reality there probably wasn’t one, but we couldn’t know for sure without doing a new study.”
For this research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Wilmot and his collaborators wanted to revisit this typology claim using modern taxometric methods across two studies that included more than 4,500 participants.
Aside from not being able to replicate the original finding, their results suggest that Type A behaviour is better described as a group of distinct personality traits. These traits, which include hard-driving/competitiveness, speed and impatience, as well as time pressure, all exist along spectrums that can be found in individuals at higher or lower levels, but none as either/or categories.
“Type A really is a misnomer, but it’s such a popular one,” says Wilmot.
“The thing about personality types is that they’re very interesting to talk about and they have been an object of public fascination for ages. But with modern, more robust research methods, most of these older typological claims are turning out to be spurious.”
While the term may be inaccurate, Wilmot says it doesn’t mean that all of the Type A literature no longer matters.
“If we break this research into pieces, it probably will be even more useful than when it was done when Type A was considered a distinct typology. I think there’s great promise to go back, re-open the gems, and use them for further research,” he says.
As for next steps, Wilmot plans to unpack individual traits like hard-driving/competitiveness and achievement striving, two traits that seem to be strong predictors of academic success. They also appear to be related to job satisfaction and positive emotions on the job, he adds. By contrast, traits like speed and impatience seem to be associated with health problems, sleep issues, low job satisfaction and greater amounts of work strain.
Wilmot says by exploring these individual traits for what they truly are will go a long way in helping people navigate challenges at work and in life generally.
“If you study these traits separately, and not in the context of one specific personality type, then you can arrive at something meaningful that can help people.”
Source: Don Campbell – University of Toronto
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the University of Toronto news release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Direct and conceptual replications of the taxometric analysis of type a behavior” by Wilmot, Michael P.; Haslam, Nick; Tian, Jingyuan; and Ones, Deniz S. in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published November 2018.
Direct and conceptual replications of the taxometric analysis of type a behavior
We present direct and conceptual replications of the influential taxometric analysis of Type A Behavior (TAB; Strube, 1989), which reported evidence for the latent typology of the construct. Study 1, the direct replication (N = 2,373), duplicated sampling and methodological procedures of the original study, but results showed that the item indicators used in the original study lacked sufficient validity to unambiguously determine latent structure. Using improved factorial subscale indicators to further test the question, multiple taxometric procedures, in combination with parallel analyses of simulated data, failed to replicate the original typological finding. Study 2, the conceptual replication, tested the latent structure of the wider construct of TAB using the sample from the Caerphilly Prospective Study (N = 2,254), which contains responses to the three most widely used self-report measures of TAB: the Jenkins Activity Survey, Bortner scale, and Framingham scale. Factorial subscale indicators were derived from the measures and submitted to multiple taxometric procedures. Results of Study 2 converged with those of Study 1, providing clear evidence of latent dimensional structure. Overall, results suggest there is no evidence for the type in TAB. Findings imply that theoretical models of TAB, assessment practices, and data analytic procedures that assume a typology should be replaced by dimensional models, factorial subscale measures, and corresponding statistical approaches. Specific subscale measures that tap multiple Big Five trait domains, and show evidence of predictive utility, are also recommended.