What Makes Presidents and Psychopaths Similar?

On October 14, 1912, just before giving a scheduled speech in Milwaukee, Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by would-be assassin John Schrank.  Roosevelt not only survived the attempt on his life, but went on to deliver his speech as scheduled. He began by saying,

I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet - there is where the bullet went through - and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.

What explains Roosevelt's dauntlessness?  New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that presidents and psychopaths share a psychological trait that may shed light on what made Teddy such a unique character.

The trait is called "fearless dominance," defined as the "boldness associated with psychopathy."  Researchers say that when found in the psychological makeup of presidents,  it's "associated with better rated presidential performance, leadership, persuasiveness, crisis management, Congressional relations, and allied variables; it was also associated with several largely or entirely objective indicators of presidential performance, such as initiating new projects and being viewed as a world figure."

Researchers tested their hypothesis in the 42 U.S. presidents up to and including George W. Bush using (a) psychopathy trait estimates derived from personality data completed by historical experts on each president, (b) independent historical surveys of presidential leadership, and (c) largely or entirely objective indicators of presidential performance.

More than 100 experts, including biographers, journalists and scholars who are established authorities on one or more U.S. presidents, evaluated their target presidents using the data derived from the sources listed above.

The results:

Theodore Roosevelt ranked highest in fearless dominance, followed by

John F. Kennedy,

Franklin D. Roosevelt,

Ronald Reagan,

Rutherford Hayes,

Zachary Taylor,

Bill Clinton,

Martin Van Buren,

Andrew Jackson,

and George W. Bush.

 


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Posted on September 18, 2012 .