Cognitive challenge, task persistence, and the type A behavior pattern



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Texas Tech University


The leading cause of death in the United States today is cardiovascular disease. Approximately one million Americans die each year from problems associated with cardiovascular disease. Factors such as smoking, genetics, poor diet, lack of exercise, and Type A behavioral tendencies (typically involving impatience, competitiveness, need for control, and hostility) have been shown to be related to increased risk of cardiovascular problems. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between Type A personality factors and persistence on challenging cognitive tasks presented under two distinct attention conditions.

Ninety undergraduate college students served as subjects, and were divided into three groups: Type A's, Type B's (those with opposite characteristics of Type A's), and Type X*s (those with an equivalent balance of Type A and B tendencies). An equal number of males and females were included in each group. The experimental manipulation involved presentation of two unsolvable tasks in one of two ways. Subjects were required to either work on the tasks in rapid, alternating succession (concurrent processing) or work on one task at a time (sequential processing) until they voluntarily chose to stop work on the tasks. Heart rate and skin temperature readings were also recorded during time on tasks to assess physiological reactivity to challenging situations.

Results showed that task presentation method (concurrent and sequential processing) had the most significant effect on task persistence. Those assigned to the sequential method worked on the tasks for significantly longer time periods than those assigned to the concurrent method. This effect was particularly evident among the Type X subjects. Gender and personality type also contributed moderately to time spent on separate tasks. Specific personality factors found to be related to Type A traits were impatience, competitiveness, and anger. Physiological data indicated that females had slightly higher heart rates than males prior to the experimental tasks, but neither heart rate or skin temperature emerged as significant factors associated with time on the tasks.

The information from this study suggests that the way that difficult tasks are presented to individuals may influence their willingness to continue to work on the tasks. Gender and personality factors are also important considerations when working on specific types of tasks.



Coronary heart disease -- Prevention, Type A behavior, Personality and cognition