In the insanity otherwise known as the 2016 presidential race, it has become common practice to label either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton with various deviant psychiatric personality disorders. In fact, given the latter’s brash and often conflicting rhetoric and the former’s proclivity for blatant mendacity, questions linger about whether the two candidates are sane enough to hold office at all.
Trump has earned comparisons to Hitler on a near weekly basis, and Hillary’s Mussolini likeness hasn’t gone unnoticed. But are these assessments accurate?
Now, thanks to an Oxford University study, we have an answer — to an extent, many of us weren’t off the mark.
Oxford University psychologist Kevin Dutton explored eight qualities of psychopathy as defined in psychological literature for the latest issue of Scientific American Mind, and found they are indeed common among politicians, in general.
Employing the standard tool for assessing psychopathic traits, the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI-R), Dutton compared Trump, Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz to 16 historical leaders.
As Dutton noted, though no exact score can determine who is or is not a psychopath, the scores provide insight into those traits — which, depending on their lack or excess, can be beneficial or potentially dangerous.
“The PPI-R does not say that someone is or is not a psychopath,” Dutton explained. “It scores them on eight traits that contribute to a psychopathic character. Some of those traits, such as fearlessness and stress immunity, can be positive. Others, such as blame externalization or being unconcerned about the future, are more likely to be negative. One, coldheartedness, can contribute to good and bad leadership,” depending on proportionality.
“Both great and terrible leaders score higher than the general population for psychopathic traits,” he continued, “but it is the mix of those traits that determines success.”
According to Mind:
“The first three traits—social influence (SI), fearlessness (F) and stress immunity (STI), known collectively as the Fearless Dominance traits—tend to be strong in successful leaders. The next four qualities, collectively called Self-Centered Impulsivity, can be more problematic: Machiavellian Egocentricity (ME), Rebellious Nonconformity (RN), Blame Externalization (BE) and Carefree Nonplanfulness (CN). The eighth trait is Coldheartedness (C), which can be helpful in making tough decisions such as sending a nation’s youth to war but is dangerous in excess.”
Keeping that last point in mind, Trump, Clinton, and Cruz all scored in the upper quintile — the top 20 percent — in not only the general Self-Centered Impulsivity category, but in the more telling trait, Coldheartedness.
Indeed, Trump scored in the top 20 percent across the board — landing him above both his frequent comparison, Adolf Hitler, but fairly less psychopathic than Saddam Hussein — and a higher tally in “negative” psychopathic traits than the other contenders. However, perhaps surprising to many, he topped the other three candidates in Fearless Dominance, associated with “successful presidencies.”
Clinton landed in a psychopathic similarity to Napoleon Bonaparte and Emperor Nero, with a Coldheartedness score on par with William the Conqueror and well above both Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
“Allowing for gender differences in percentile cutoffs,” Denton wrote, “her score was more on par with Trump’s.”
Indeed, Clinton scored highest in the Self-Centered Impulsivity, and highest there in Machiavellian Egocentricity — indicating a lack of empathy and detachment, which for better or worse, would fuel her desire to achieve personal goals.
Certain psychopathic traits, in the right proportions, make for successful leader, Dutton notes, so scores cannot be taken in themselves as an indication a leader would go off the rails; but what proportion of each quality can offer insight into each candidate’s personality in relation to their ability to lead successfully.
“It is interesting that these scores reflect both the praise and criticism that Trump and Clinton receive,” Dutton explained, as quoted by the Daily Mail.
“In the end, while both score relatively high, it will be up to voters to decide if whether their mix of positive and negative traits should send them to the Oval Office or the psychiatrist’s office.”
Overall, Dutton said, “while no one likes a heartless liar, the fact is that none of these traits in and of themselves presents a serious challenge to mental health. Instead what distinguishes the cold-blooded murderer from a psychopathic president is a question of context and degree.”
Doubtless, that won’t be much comfort to voters already disturbed by the fact we have a presidential race that tacitly necessitated a test of the candidates’ psychopathy.
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