While you may be familiar with the
idea of the "type A" personality — controlling, perfectionist, competitive, impatient and aggressive — it may surprise you to know that the idea itself is largely considered pretty outmoded in psychology, at least as we used to think of them. The theory came from cardiologists in the 1950s who deemed people with type A personalities at higher risk of heart disease, but it's since been seen as a bit of a problematic construction because the original studies were a) funded by tobacco companies and b) only focused on white middle-aged men. These days, according to the Association of Psychological Science, we recognize that many of the personality traits of the type A idea may well occur together, but only one aspect, anger and hostility, appears to be bad for the heart.
But type A has remained in the public consciousness as a kind of shorthand for the high-achievers who just can't chill out. If you need to recognize one in the wild, here's a collection of psychological habits and traits that have been determined by research to be pretty characteristic of a type A personality — even if, these days, that's not really what we'd call it.
They Keep Themselves On A High
2012 study of both stroke patients and healthy people in Madrid found that if they were in possession of "behavior typical of type-A personalities, such as hostility, aggression, and impatience" they were more likely to be a victim of stroke. But the study also noted that other behaviors seemed to be connected to type-A personalities, including consuming a lot of energy drinks and not necessarily sleeping a lot. The inability to "come down" from high-performing behavior, and the use of stopgaps and other fixes to attempt to prolong productivity as long as possible, seems to be a characteristic habit of the type-A person who wants to get things done. They're At Higher Risk Of Injury
This is a sad consequence of being hyper-competitive and rushing around achieving goals: getting hurt. A study of Chinese undergraduates published in BMC Public Health in 2013 found that
the more type-A the undergraduates were (the more impatient, hostile and urgent, to be specific), the more likely they were to end up with accidental injuries as a result of their haste and annoyance. Studies have also found that highly strung people who fit type A profiles, particularly women, are more at risk of having car accidents. Just because somebody's a perfectionist who's constantly working at a high level doesn't mean they're aware of their bodies or the space around them. They're Pretty Competitive
A lot of research around type A personalities and their variants is focused on how being so competitive might affect health and performance outcomes. And one interesting study from 2011 by scientists in Maine noted that there are actually
two different types of type A competitiveness. One makes the person feel as if they're competing against others, making them into a pretty toxic worker who's into manipulating others and making Machiavellian schemes to bring others down. The other is known as personal development competitiveness, or competing with others, in which people are just as focussed and bent on achievement, but are more OK with the presence of others to help motivate them to reach their goal. Both can be part of type A related personalities, and explain why some hyper-competitive people are a pain in the neck while others are pretty helpful to have around. They Never Stop Working
Is this a surprise to anybody? As we expand our knowledge of hyper-competitive, perfectionist people, other aspects seem to pop up in tandem. And workaholism is one of those traits. A study in 2010 that
proposed expanding the way we look at type A people and personalities in general found that being a type A style personality massively influenced people's tendency to work far too much and lose their ability to maintain a work-life balance. It skewed results far more than any type A formula had indicated. Getting a person with a type A related personality to stop doing overtime is a seriously uphill battle. They Can Be Obsessive Perfectionism is another of the personality aspects that's been gradually brought into our understanding of type A psychology. The need to do everything perfectly and achieve 100 percent is a key part of the package, and it can also mean that type A related people can get very obsessive about getting things just right all the time. There's a distinct link between perfectionism and obsessive behavior in general, though there's a difference between being a bit over-focused and having pathological obsessions. But your type A style friend might not be easily dragged away from finishing their puzzle. They're Not Easily Satisfied
Type A people, it seems, are not capable of sitting still and being happy with their environments and achievements; they're always pushing forward, and that can make them restless and unhappy in work environments. A 2002 study of 332 German managers found that people who fit type A characteristics and had something called an "external locus of control" (a perception that outside events are responsible for everything that happens to them) were
much more unhappy at their jobs than people who were more type B. Even if the type A people had an "internal locus of control" (where events were thought to be controlled by their own doings), they were still more likely to be unhappy. If your type A style manager looks grumpy, don't stress; they probably feel like that a lot. They Resist Relaxation
Trying to figure out how to relax people with type A style personalities has actually been a bit of a scientific question; some studies suggest that
muscle relaxation techniques might be best. But the overarching agreement tends to be that type A style people aren't very good at relaxing on their own time. They're wound-up on a pretty intense level, and may find it intensely difficult to chill out and let go. These are the people who stalk about in anxiety and work mode on vacation, and refuse to leave their iPhones in the hotel and go for a snorkel.