You will recall that the Type A personality really is a syndrome, a collection of three subtraits, which often, but not always, occur together in the same persons. For example, a person could have time ur gency and high achievement motive, but not have the hostility component. When the interview measures of Type A were developed by physicians, they tended to emphasize the assessment of hostility and aggression. For example, it assessed whether the participants got frustrated when the physicians talked slowly, whether they swore during the interview , or whether they actively gestured or pounded the table. Later , when questionnaire measures were developed, more of an emphasis was placed on the time ur gency and achievement components. For example, did the participants say they were always in a hurry , that they worked better as deadlines got closer, or that they achieved more than their peers?
As researchers began to use the questionnaires more and more (because they were faster, easier, and cheaper to administer than the interviews), evidence began to accumulate, showing that general Type A personality did not predict heart disease. Researchers then compared the interviews with the questionnaires and learned that the interview method tapped more of the hostility component than the questionnaire method. As such, researchers began testing the hypothesis that it was really the more specific trait of hostilit , rather than the general syndrome of Type A personality, that was the better predictor of heart disease.
What do researchers mean by the trait of hostility? People high in hostility are not necessarily violent or outwardly aggressive. They are not necessarily even assertive or demanding of others. Instead, such people are likely to react disagreeably to disappointments, frustrations, and inconveniences. Frustration can be understood as the subjective feeling that comes when you are blocked from an important goal. For example, you want a cold drink from the vending machine and it takes your money but does not give you the drink you request. This is frustrating. A hostile person reacts to such frustrations with disagreeable behavior, attacking the machine or swearing and kicking the garbage can as he or she sulks away . Hostile people are easily irritated, even by small frustrations, such as when they misplace their car keys or have to wait in line at the grocery store. In such situations, hostile people can become visibly upset, sometimes even becoming rude and uncooperative or even antagonistic.
Several studies have now established that hostility is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease (Dembrowski & Costa, 1987; Helmers, Posluszny , & Krantz, 1994; Smith, 1992; Wiebe & Smith, 1997). In fact, psychologists Dembrowski and Costa have demonstrated that even a questionnaire measure of the specific trait of hostility is a bet ter predictor of artery disease than are questionnaire measures of Type A. Recent studies have also shown that hostility is associated with systemic inflammation, as indicate by elevated blood leukocyte counts, also known as white blood cell counts (Surtees et al., 2003). Physicians have long known that chronic inflammation is related to risk fo coronary disease, and so have recommended that persons at risk take an aspirin a day , because aspirin reduces inflammation. Howeve , the Surtees et al. (2003) study is the first to establish a direct link between hostility and elevated white blood cell count. The correlation with hostility , while not lar ge, was statistically significant and remaine so even after accounting for known risk factors for chronic inflammation, such a age, sex, smoking history, and alcohol intake. Chronic inflammation may be th pathway whereby hostility is linked to the health endpoint of cardiovascular disease.
The good news about this research is that not everything about being Type A is bad for the heart and arteries. Given that hostility is apparently the lethal component, can we envision a "healthy" version of the Type A personality? It seems okay to strive for success and achievement, but don' t be hostile and aggressive along the way. It's okay to strive to attain goals and even to be a workaholic, but don' t get frustrated by the inevitable setbacks that come with everyday life. It' s okay to be in a hurry and strive to get as much done as possible, but don' t get frustrated and angry when you can' t accomplish everything. And it's okay to enjoy a competition, as long as it's friendly, not hostile. And sometimes it may be good therapy to get into the longest and slowest line at the store and just try to relax, take it easy , and not feel hostile or angry in such situations (W right, 1988).
It seems there may even be some benefits to being a nonhostile Type A person. In a longitudinal study of men, researchers discovered that, as expected, Type A men had more heart attacks than Type B men. However , after a heart attack, the Type A men were more likely to survive and to recover successfully from the heart attack than were the Type B men (Ragland & Brand, 1988). It appears that certain components of the Type A syndrome—such as striving and achievement motivation— help the Type A person develop and maintain a healthy post-heart attack regime of recovery and exercise.
Was this article helpful?