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Childhood origins of Type A behavior.

For some time, psychologist Carl Thoresen and his co-workers at Stanford University have noticed that patients recovering from heart attacks who fit the competitive, hostile, achivement-oriented pattern of "Type A" behavior are unable to remember ever having not fit into a hard-driving mold. This got the scientists to wondering: What are the origins of Type A behavior?

In a three-year study presented last week at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in Los Angeles, they report that some children and adolescents exhibit psychological and physical signposts of a Type A behavior pattern, fostered by parental child-rearing practices.

The do not yet know, however, whether Type A children are more likely to suffer heart attacks later in life.

Thoresen and psychologists Jean R. Eagleston, Kathleen Kirmil-Gray and Paul E. Bracke surveyed 700 youngsters in grades 5, 7 and 9. Using several questionnaires and interviews, they identified 93 children with the highest Type A scores and 91 with the lowest Type A scores.

The high Type As reported significantly more physical symptoms associated with stress than their low-scoring counterparts, says Eagleston. Sleep disturbances were more common among high Type As than in the "low" group. During a three-month period, they suffered many more headaches, sore throats, colds, flus and allergies than the other children. The high Type A youngsters and their parents may ignore the surplus of physical symptoms, adds Eagleston, because there were no group differences in school absences due to illness or doctor's visits.

Alhtough adult Type As tend not to report high levels of anxiety or depression, "something different appears to be going on with Type A kids," says Kirmil-Gray. On a number of scales, high Type A children report more insecurity about how others perceive them, a greater fear of alienating others through their success and markedly lower self-esteem. High Type As have as many friends as low Type As and are able to maintain social contacts just as well, but they worry a great deal about proving their worth, even more than has been observed in adult Type As, explains Kirmil-Gray.

Type A children also reported that they were angrier more often, for longer periods of time, and were more explosive than low Type As. "Maybe the high-scorers are more prone to arousal in general," says Kirmil-Gray. "We might understand them better if we studied more positive types of arousal, such as curiosity and creativity."

In a subsample of 40 youngsters and their parents, Bracke found that the origins of Type A behavior may differ for boys and girls. The parents of high Type A boys said they criticized their sons' failures more often than did the parents of low Type A boys. When the children attempted to perform block-stacking and ring-toss exercises in the laboratory with their parents present, high Type A parents often tried to tell their sons what to do, says Bracke. In addition, the fathers of high Type A boys were more likely to use physicial punishment in response to their sons' misbehavior than were fathers of low Type As. Fathers of high Type As were also far more often Type As themselves, thus serving as models of Type A behavior, notes Bracke.

Parental modeling and discipline were less clearly related to high Type A Scores among girls, says Bracke. Type A girls need to be examined in more contexts at home and in the laboratory, he suggests.

The Stanford findings are provocative, says Judith Siegel of the University of California at Los Angeles, but Type A behavior remains poorly defined. "We don't know whether Type A children in this study are more aroused in general than other children and whether they are especially coronary prone," she points out.

But psychologist Martin Ford of Stanford says the data indicate that "Type A behavior is more than an isolated syndrome suffered by a few hard-driving executives." It is a general motivattional pattern that is learned early, says Ford. In childhood, be observes, it is marked by a conflict between an intense desire to be accepted by others and a belief that hostility and disruptive behavior are necessary to control others, who are seen as obstacles to success.

While a child's parents may play an important role in the development of Type A behavior, "We don't know if kids are born with Type A tendencies that contribute to an early Type A environment," says Thoresen.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 31, 1985
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