Human behavior is rooted by a multifaceted matrix of events and situations to which an individual is quick to respond. The theory of operant conditioning and the concept of reinforcement in direct work with clients imply changing their behaviors. Type-A personality, however, should receive particular attention in terms of Skinner’s learning, as an individual, belonging to this type, is characterized as a “person who is aggressively involved in a chronic, incessant struggle to achieve more and more in less and less time, and if required to do so, against the opposing efforts of other things or other persons” (Pettijohn, 1998, p.
172). Type-A personality is usually hyperactive, hard driving, time compulsive and poliphasic, i. e. such individuals normally consider several issues simultaneously and are capable of focusing on several objects at the same time. According to Skinner’s perspective, there are several types of reinforcement: positive, negative, differential reinforcement and shaping (Makovski et al, 1988). A positive reinforcer is considered a consequence that causes amplified behavior in the future.
It is approximately similar to a reward— a term that may be helpful with clients, even though theoretically one reinforces behavior and rewards people. The term motivation also is a good synonym for a positive reinforcer (ibid). Differential reinforcement seeks to support certain behavioral patterns, whereas other models are about to be left without reinforcement. Shaping refers to reinforcing certain acts and behaviors in hierarchical manner: first of all, it is vital to establish a strong behavioral basis and only afterwards learn differentiated skills.
Negative reinforcement reinforcement enlarges behavior that leads to either evasion or avoiding an aversive (unlikable) circumstances. The aversive incident or situation is the negative reinforcer (ibid). In my opinion, when dealing with Type-A personality (either in the area of counseling or in direct psychotherapy), the major goal should be achieved: the client should generally be taught to manage stress and, in particular, to slow down and distract from external irritants.
Furthermore, due to the fact that such individuals, although allegedly self-confident and assured, has sensitive or hypersensitive nervous system and often approaches to self-management in quite a negativistic manner. As a result, negative reinforcement is likely to cause additional stress or counteraction and even incite emotional outburst, as Type-A personality is characterized by perfectionism and painfully perceives any criticism.
As an alternative, in order to support the relaxation process, the therapist or counselor is supposed to establish in the client the firm conviction in the soundness and usefulness of avoiding walking, talking and eating fast (it is particularly important to focus on specific aspects of behavior)– in this sense, when dealing with a female, the specialist can praise her for gracious and light step, for her perfect table-manners, whereas reinforcing male individuals requires highlighting the client’s perceived confidence and self-belief, when seeing his precise and leisurely movements (Pettijohn, 1998).
It needs to be noted that Type-A individuals normally need more time to learn certain pattern (comparing to Type-B individuals), as they usually have a lot of internal contradictions, but punishing such manifestations of ‘A-behavior’ as attempts to control the situation, the counselor should rather focus on the client’s excellent capability of time-management and persuade the client that time is in fact his/her friend and that he/she can successfully amplify and decrease the pace and dynamics.
To sum up, when planning interventions into the ‘A-behaviors’, the counselor should take a positivistic approach to the case and primarily reinforce ‘Type-B habits’ (self-reflection, introspection, spending more time for passive leisure activities), but the specialist is not expected to occupy paternalistic position – Type-A individuals are usually engaged into business and therefore tolerate no overt surveillance or control, but become sensible and obedient when being coordinated through positive or differential reinforcement (ibid).
Makovsky, V. , Whittermore, L. and Rogers, A. (1988). Activities handbook for the teaching of Psychology: Volume 2. APA Press. Pettijohn, T. (1998). Psychology: A ConnecText, 4th Edition. Ohio: Ohio State University Press.