Individual differences in stress: personality types A, B and C and associated behaviours; hardiness, including commitment, challenge and control.
- Time Pressured
Type A individuals tend to be very competitive and self-critical. They strive toward goals without feeling a sense of joy in their efforts or accomplishments. Inter-related with this is the presence of a significant life imbalance. This is characterized by a high work involvement. Type A individuals are easily ‘wound up’ and tend to overreact. They also tend to have high blood pressure (hypertension). Type A personalities experience a constant sense of urgency: Type A people seem to be in a constant struggle against the clock. Often, they quickly become impatient with delays and unproductive time, schedule commitments too tightly, and try to do more than one thing at a time, such as reading while eating or watching television. Type A individuals tend to be easily aroused to anger or hostility, which they may or may not express overtly. This appear to be the main factor linked to heart disease.
- One thing at a time
- Expresses feelings
People with Type B personality by definition generally live at a lower stress level and typically work steadily, enjoying achievement but not becoming stressed when they are not achieved. When faced with competition, they do not mind losing and either enjoy the game or back down. They may be creative and enjoy exploring ideas and concepts. They are often reflective, thinking about the outer and inner worlds.
Suzanne Kobasa believed that people with a hardy personality were less likely to see events as stressful. Eight hundred business executives of a large US company were tested using the SRRS. Those who scored highly were then examined and split into two groups; those who were frequently ill and those who were rarely ill. She found a difference in personality between the two with those reporting few illnesses being described as hardy.
- Control – Hardy people see themselves as being in charge of their life, not controlled by outsides factors which they cannot control.
- Commitment – Hardy people are involved in the world around them and have a sense of purpose.
- Challenge – Hardy people see challenges as problems to be overcome rather than as stressors.
Stress & Coronary Heart Disease – Friedman & Rosenman (1974)
Aim: To investigate the links between type A behaviour patterns and cardiovascular disease.
Procedure: Using structured interviews, 3200 men aged 39-59 were categorised as type A, type B or type X (balanced between A and B). Assessment based on answers to interview and behaviour during interview. The men were healthy (no CHD) at the start of the research. The sample was followed up for 8.5 years to assess lifestyle and health outcomes.
Findings: At the end of the study 257 men had developed CHD. 70% of those were from the type A group. These results were significant even when risk factors such as smoking and obesity were taken into account.
Conclusion: Type A behaviour pattern is risk factor for heart disease. Behaviour modification programmes to reduce Type A behaviour should result in a reduce risk of heart disease.
Evaluation of Friedman & Rosenman (1974)
Supporting Research: One strength of the research into the relationship between stress and CHD is further empirical support provided by Williams (2000). He used 13,000 people who completed an anger questionnaire. None of the pps suffered from heart disease at the beginning of the study. Six years later those who had scored high on the anger scale were 2.6 times more likely to have a heart attack. This suggests that the idea of stress may cause CHD has wider academic credibility.
Practical Applications: A further strength of this link between the stress and CVD is that it has practical applications. If we understand the negative effects of stress on health we can take action to avoid its associated risks. For example there are important implications when treating someone with an existing heart problem, particularly those recovering from surgery. Here it would be important to reduce stress as much as possible in order to aid recovery and prevent any further damage. This suggests that a better understanding could help to improve the quality of people’s lives.
Correlational: One weakness of Friedman and Rosenman’s research is that there is a problem of cause and effect. For example, rather than causing physiological reactivity, the Type A behaviour pattern may be a response to heightened physiological reactivity in some individuals. Thus, the direct effect can be questioned: does Type A result in increased physiological reactivity or is Type A a result of high levels of physiological reactivity which may be genetically determined? This suggests that there is a problem with the chicken and egg, when trying to infer causality between personality type and CHD.
Opposing Research: A second weakness of the study is that there is contradictory evidence. Shekelle et al. (1985) conducted a longitudinal study of 12,000 men. Shekelle et al. did not find a relationship between Type A behaviour and heart disease. This suggests that Type A behaviour cannot provide a full explanation for coronary heart disease and refutes Friedman and Rosenman’s findings.
Validity: A further weakness is the research lacked validity. The reason for this is because it did not precisely measure what it set out to. Later research by Matthews et al. (1977), who re-analysed the data, found that hostility correlated highest with CHD. Thus, hostility, rather than Type A in general, may explain the findings. This suggests that the research is difficult to measure.
Hostility: One final meta analysis by Myrtek (2001) found that only the hostility component of the type A’s behaviour was linked to CHD.