Sciency Words: Type A Behavior Pattern

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:


In my daily life, I’ve been hearing a lot about type A and type B personalities lately. Don’t know why. It just keeps coming up in conversations for some reason, but I’m never sure which one I’m supposed to be. Since these are scientific terms, I figured it was time I did some research.

Turns out that type A and type B were originally cardiology terms. They didn’t come from the field of psychology at all. Back in the 1950’s, some cardiologists noticed that they had two kinds of patients: those who sat calmly in the waiting room and those who fidgeted impatiently.

The fidgeters came to be known as “type A,” and they seemed to be more likely to have coronary disorders than the “type B” non-fidgeters. Soon a study was conducted. The type A behavior pattern (abbreviated T.A.B.P.) was further defined as “[…] an intense, sustained drive for achievement and as being continually involved in competition and deadlines, both at work and in their vocations.”

These were people with a lot of ambition, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they also tended to stress themselves out. They got impatient easily, both with themselves and with others, and were sometimes prone to hostile behavior at work, home, or basically anywhere. With that in mind, the results of the study may not seem like a surprise: a clear corrolation between type A behavior and an elevated risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

If you’re type A, don’t panic. There were some big problems with that initial study, most notably that it only sampled middle-aged men and failed to account for other key health factors like diet. Subsequent research on both men and women of all ages produced less conclusive results.

And yet debate continued for some time after that, possibly because of some undue influence by the tobacco industry. It seems tobacco companies surreptitiously funded more research on type A behavior then argued, both publically and in court, that personality types pose a greater health risk than cigarettes.

It seems cardiologists started abandoning this whole idea by the 1990’s. Psychologists still seem to use the terms, but sparingly. At this point, I’m not sure if the whole type A vs. type B thing is meaningful anymore, scientifically speaking; and yet a lot of people do seem to identify as one or the other.

So I don’t know. What do you think? Are type A and type B behavior patterns useful ways to describe people, or should we just let these terms go?

P.S.: If I must pick one or the other, I’m going to start telling people I’m type B, because I don’t fidget in waiting rooms.

14 thoughts on “Sciency Words: Type A Behavior Pattern

  1. It took Leonard Nimoy years of diligent practice and self denial to get the live long and prosper hand signal greeting down to a practiced art. I’m proud to say, I’ve mastered the technique with both hands like the great vulchie himself so I’m catagory type A.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice. Yeah, I remember as a kid forcing my fingers apart, training my hands to be able to do the Vulcan salute. I’m not sure if that makes me type A, but I’m definitely willing to put in the work if there’s something I want to learn how to do.


  2. Really interesting. I had no idea where these types came from either, but would never have guessed that was the origin. Makes good sense though. The number of people I’ve known who fit into the Type A bucket seem to… fit into it. It’s hard to, and unfair to, classify people though. No one’s really one or the other. I’m driven in some ways (being the best goofy astronomy writer ever!) but not most other places. But… It’s my hypercompetitivness about not fidgeting that confuses me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “No one’s really one or the other.” That’s really the heart of the problem for me. I feel like I have the qualities of both, and I think most other people do too. It seems to me like a gross oversimplification to say people have to be one or the other.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, yeah. My gripe is with the A/B classification, not with anything you said. So little in life is as binary as these two types want things to be. Reality is much more complicated.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t fidget in waiting rooms either … if that gives me a free pass at the cardiology counter, I’m happy to claim my £100 as I pass go. But we’re not discussing how close my shoulders are to my ear lobes, are we?

    Really interesting to know the source though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose I am being a little flippant about the fidgeting thing, but I just can’t figure out whether I’m type A or type B. Depending on which modern definition is being used, I feel like I can be either one, or perhaps both at the same time.


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