Research links personality type to health

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Personality types vary, but there are enough basic similarities that led two American cardiologists, Dr. Meyer Friedman and Dr. Ray Rosenman, to discover and categorize different “personality types.” There are some people who can take all that life throws them with a grain of salt (Type B) and there are some people who can’t (Type A). Additionally, Psychiatrist Lydia Temoshok found that there are some people who say little one way or another about how they feel (Type C). A person’s personality type has more to do with the individual’s chances of living a long, happy and successful life than one might realize.

For example, Type A personalities may face the serious risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) if they do not learn how to change their behavior.

Type A traits are aggressive, competitive, time-urgent, controlling, hostile, multi-tasking, unable to ask for help and focused on numbers and completing things fast. Type A’s are constantly in a fight or flight mode and tend to be hot reactors to things that require little reaction. This behavior can take its toll on the heart and the body.

“I think I am probably a Type A,” said Victoria Gropp, a Cal State Fullerton anthropology major. “I think I am anal about a lot of things, and I get impatient. I have that drive for success. I am fine with what I am, but I do want to learn to have more patience, especially when it comes to dating.”

In her stress management class, therapist and CSUF Stress Management professor, Maureen Haney, teaches students techniques to better handle life’s more difficult situations. She said that Friedman suggested Type A’s cultivate an interest in activities with “Three P’s: people, pets and plants” to relax.

People-pleasing Type C’s are too passive to say anything, which can also lead to high stress and adversely affect quality of life. The real goal is to become more flexible and easy going by taking things more in stride like the Type B behavior.

Haney explained that in the mid-1950s Friedman and Rosenman frequently had to reupholster the chairs in their waiting room. When a new upholsterer came in to assess the problem, he noticed that the wear and tear on the chairs was not typical. The chairs were literally worn at the edge of the seats, leading him to ask the cardiologists what kind of practice they had.

In the book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky, Friedman recounted his encounter with the upholsterer:

“What the hell is wrong with your patients? People do not wear chairs out this way,” said the upholsterer.

Friedman, a self-proclaimed recovering Type A, said, “I didn’t pay any attention the man – as I was too busy.”

It was not until five years later that Friedman’s formal Type A research confirmed what the upholsterer suspected; there is a link between behavior and heart disease.

Haney said another cardiologist, Dr. Dean Ornish, observed that as life saving as coronary by-pass surgery is, often the same patients would be back on the operating table several years later. This led Ornish to believe that by-pass surgery alone was an incomplete approach and that cardiologists needed to treat the underlying cause of heart disease. Ornish went on to develop a research-based program to reverse coronary blockage emphasizing lifestyle change with a strong focus on the concept of opening up your heart to love and reducing hostility and social isolation.

According to the textbook “Comprehensive Stress Management” by Jerrold Greenberg, in the past coronary heart diseases had been typically attributed to poor diet, smoking, obesity, heredity and lack of exercise.

“Friedman would say ‘You can’t change personalities, we just try for more B-like behavior,’” Haney said. “Although he worked as the director of the Meyer Friedman Institute at UC San Francisco until his death, he clearly took his own advice, living until the age 90.”

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