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New Science Shows We Should Really Stop Calling People ‘Type-A’ and ‘Type-B’

Yet another popular framework for discussing personality is proven to be a complete myth.

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BY Jessica Stillman - 04 Dec 2018

stop calling people type-a and type-b

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Are you ISFJ or an ESTJ? Sagittarius or Virgo? Gryffindor or Ravenclaw?

People love to divide themselves into types. It's fun to belong to a team and feels like a natural way to get a better handle on both your behavior and that of others. But according to science, pretty much all personality types are bunk. Humans are complex and variable, each with our own unique signature of traits. And what's more, personality shifts significantly over time.

According to new research that's as true for another venerable and often used schema as it is for Myers Briggs and astrology. There is, apparently, no such thing as a 'type-A' personality either.

Type-A personality doesn't exist.

That's the contention of a new Canadian study soon to be published on the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and highlighted recently on the BBC. The research attempted to replicate the findings from previous studies that claimed it's possible to divide people into hard-charging Type-A and laid back Type-B personalities. The scientists weren't able to do it.

The problem with the earlier research is the same issue those searching for personality types always run into. Types bundle together various traits into one category -- Type-A folks have been described as ambitious, impatient, and competitive, for instance -- but in the real world different parts of our personalities vary independently. You can be highly ambitious, for instance, but not at all impatient. Or highly impatient but not particularly competitive.

Or, as the researchers suggest, "the problem with 'being' Type A,... is that you can't really 'be' Type A at all. Rather, you can have some Type A traits and not have others, or fall on a spectrum of each trait. Suggesting someone is Type A could be suggesting they have certain personality traits that they don't even have."

The shady history of the Type-A personality

This failure to replicate probably isn't a huge shock to anyone familiar with the history of how the idea of Type-A and Type-B personalities was developed in the first place. The distinction was the brainchild of cardiologists in the 1950s to describe certain personalities (Type-A) that were more susceptible to heart attacks.

That sounds perfectly reasonable until you learn that the research was funded by tobacco companies in order to deflect attention from cigarettes' role in heart disease. The whole campaign was designed to convince folks their ambition was to blame for their heart troubles, not their smoking habit. Here's the whole story via The Cut.

It's a good reminder to always ask who is funding research, but it's also another bit of evidence that personality types are often more about achieving some outside aim (offloading the hard work of deciding who to hire and promote, selling consulting, ordering the distressing chaos of life, filling the gaping maw that is the internet's appetite for content) rather than reflecting reality in any meaningful way.

You can go ahead and keep calling yourself type-A if you want. People will kinda get what you're aiming for, but be warned science says this is a really lousy way to go about understanding yourself or anyone else on any useful level.

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