Friday, October 10, 2014

Type A or Type B

When I was a sophomore in high school, I took a class called Psychology & Sociology.  It felt like very grown-up subject matter, more like a college class than the Math, English, or Social Studies that I had taken in previous grades.  Plus, since it was an elective, there was a mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors.  Grown-up, indeed!

It was in Mrs. Raglin's Psych & Soc class that I first learned about the two personality types, type A and type B.  I don't remember exactly how they were explained, but the gist of it was this:

Type A=motivated, high achiever, organized, sets goals, gets lots of stuff done
Type B=laid back, creative, go-with-the-flow (and maybe kind of lazy?)

We quite likely talked about the link between personality type, stress level, and physical health, but I don't remember any of that.  What I do know is that I came away with an understanding of which one I wanted to be, which one was clearly superior.  I was college-bound, heavily involved in activities, getting good grades...type A all the way.

This is me trying to look the part in a high-powered business suit, circa 1993.

In the past few years, I've realized that I am absolutely NOT a type A person.  I am messy, creative, and reflective.  I am highly disorganized, and though I set lots of goals, I often achieve them in a winding, roundabout way.  When I learned about the two types in high school, I started identifying with the one that seemed like the "good" one, the one that described successful people.  But many years later, I've figured out more about myself and about the world, and I am content with my core personality.  I know I have a lot to offer, even if it doesn't look like I thought it would when I was sixteen.

So, ready to embrace my type B personality, and having read nothing about the two types since the early 1990s, I did a little googling.  You can take a test on the Psychology Today website to find out if you possess the hallmark traits of a type A person, which they describe as "hostility, impatience, difficulty expressing emotions, competitiveness, drive, perfectionism and an unhealthy dependence on external rewards such as wealth, status, or power."

Blech.  Reading that list just reconfirmed my type B-ness.

Then I read the wikipedia entry on the subject.  Whoa!  It turns out that the original research was pretty flawed, and then the tobacco companies dove in and started funding further research to make it look like personality type, rather than smoking, was causing coronary heart disease and cancer.  (I realize that wikipedia is not, like, a scientific journal, but it's enough to get me to re-think my previous ideas.)

I still hear people using the phrase "type A" to describe themselves or others all the time.    I think that for most of us, we are referring to focus, ambition, and competitiveness rather than hostility and impatience.  We often claim it like a badge of honor.  "Oh, I'm totally type A.  I get stuff done."  But it seems that the original purpose of making the distinction was not good vs. bad or high achievers vs. lazy people, but a way to categorize people who have a higher vs. lower risk of heart disease.

I feel like this deserves an entry in Lies My Teacher Told Me, right up there with the horrible Columbus (who was probably a type A in the truest sense of the word).


  1. I eschew there a Type C? ;-)

  2. A comes first in the alphabet and represents a better score therfore it is better.