Case in point — the tobacco industry and psychological research on Type A personalities.
Melissa Dahl has all the fascinating details at New York Magazine‘s “Science of Us” column.
- “When the Type A personality was introduced into the medical lexicon by a pair of cardiologists, it was considered a negative thing — a behavior pattern to avoid, not to admire, as it would lead to stress-induced heart attacks (or so they claimed).”
- “From the 1960s through the 1990s, much of the research on Type A behavior was partially funded by two tobacco companies, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, according to an extensively researched paper published in Public Health Ethics by Mark P. Petticrew, a professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and his colleagues Kelley Lee and Martin McKee.”
- “The Type A personality has no real definition, as psychology writer Maria Konnikova has pointed out. It’s a self-concept that was, at least in part, created by the cigarette industry.”
- “Beginning in the late 1950s, two cardiologists — Meyer Friedman and Ray H. Rosenman — began publishing their work on “type A behavior pattern” — that is, people who are excessively ambitious, competitive, and aggressive. Men who exhibited such behavior, Friedman and Rosenman argued, were seven times more likely to have heart disease as their comparatively mellow — that is, Type B — counterparts.”
- “By the late 1950s, Petticrew and his colleagues report, the work had caught the eyes of tobacco-industry executives reeling from a decade’s worth of damning scientific research connecting cigarettes and health problems, including the 1952 blockbuster story in Reader’s Digest, “Cancer by the Carton,” and the 1954 statement from the American Cancer Society acknowledging the link between smoking and cancer risk.”
- “Later that year, the public-relations firm behind an organization called the Council for Tobacco Research included Friedman on a list of scientists who were “serious workers in their respective fields who have not appeared as protagonists in the debates on tobacco and health.” In the years to come, that council would produce a series of leaflets and pamphlets and films loosely inspired by work from Friedman, Rosenman, and others on the Type A personality. The underlying message — with statements like, “The type most susceptible [to a heart attack] … is the hard-driving man with excessive ambition and competitiveness” — was that psychological stress could just as easily be a cause of heart disease as smoking.”
- “A second tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds — the maker of Camel cigarettes — funded comparable research, including a study launched at Yale University investigating potential psychological causes of heart attacks. (The money came from the Meyer Friedman Institute, “to circumvent Yale’s ban on accepting tobacco-industry funding,” Petticrew and his colleagues note.)”
- “In the end, though, it all fizzled, anyway: Overall, the majority of these research projects failed to find a clear link between the Type A personality and poorer heart health. According to a 2002 systematic review of the literature, only one of the 11 prognostic studies found that Type A behavior could predict heart disease. Of the 13 etiologic studies — that is, those designed to identify a potential causal role of Type A behavior in heart disease — just four were positive; of those four, three “had a direct or indirect link to the tobacco industry.”
The more you know…