Which US president had the worst temper?

Scientific Study: Are Narcissists Better US Presidents?

The terrain in which we are searching for an answer is undoubtedly impassable. This is due, on the one hand, to the ambiguous term narcissism or the narcissist and, on the other hand, to the assessment that narcissism can actually be linked to goal achievement and leadership success.

What is narcissism anyway?

Let's start with the term. This is widely associated with the name Sigmund Freud, although the famous psychoanalyst did not actually develop the term to describe a certain character (that was around 1900 the psychiatrist and criminologist Paul Näcke), but popularized it for a long time. In 1914, Freud emphasized in his essay on the “Introduction of Narcissism” that it was a descriptive term that, rarely in its appearance, originally referred to the sexualized relationship to one's own body (autoerotism, self-love). It was named after the figure of Narcissus (Narcissus, Narcissus) from Greek mythology, who died of unattainable self-love, remaining in the face of her mirrored likeness. Instead of the corpse, a plant sprouted from a drop of blood, the daffodil, was found later. A sad and beautiful story.

While the term narcissism is almost consistently connoted negatively in colloquial language today, the scientific discussion mostly distinguishes between productive and pathological (destructive) narcissism (Kuhn / Weibler 2012). This already shows that we have to think of a continuum rather than a one-sided ascription. According to the American Psychiatric Association (2015; DSM-5), one can only speak of a mental disorder if, in the differential diagnosis, a decisive, profound pattern of Magnificence, Grandiosity and self-importance - be it in the imagination or in behavior - can be discerned. This goes hand in hand with a need for admiration and a lack of empathy.

Further Keywords in the context of narcissism are: the feeling of one's own importance, for example by overestimating one's own talents, boundless fantasies of success and power, being absorbed in one's own beauty, the belief in personal uniqueness, the desire to be the center of everything, entering into exploitative relationships , ignoring the feelings and needs of others (if one recognizes them at all), envy of others combined with the conviction that others are envious of their own success, as well as: simple arrogance, not least because of a very vulnerable self-esteem. The following applies: Not all of these criteria, which would have to be described in more detail, are essential to secure a diagnosis.

Spread of narcissism

The beginning of this development can be found in early adulthood. The diagnosis of “narcissistic personality disorder” is predominantly made in men. Depending on the diagnostic tool chosen, a clinically relevant personality disorder is suspected in 0.5% - 2% of the population (higher according to the DSM). More widespread, however, are character traits that are narcissistic but do not appear pathological in the actual sense (so-called. subclinical narcissism). Joshua D. Miller from the University of Georgia recently (2015) showed with a research team that one generally perceives others as more narcissistic than oneself, this attribution increases with higher professional status and visible position and that - this is with a view to the US Presidency important - Americans tend to be classified as more narcissistic than other national cultures.

Narcissists as US presidents

The question of whether or to what extent a (positive, negative) relationship between narcissistic personality and successful leadership exists, was the focus of a broad study by the psychologist Ashley L. Watts (2013). The most striking feature: "Subject" of the investigation were not executives or CEOs, but all 41 US presidents up to (and including) George W. Bush. In terms of methodology, the process involved two basic steps: On the one hand, it was necessary to determine the type and extent of the narcissistic character of each president. As a variety of narcissism, a distinction was made between so-called "Vulnerable" narcissists and "Terrific" narcissists differentiated - the former characterized by introversion, fearfulness and defensive behavior, the latter by extraversion, self-confidence and aggressiveness. The extent of these influences on the US presidents was determined by experts (e.g. historians or biographers with specialist knowledge of one or more presidents), who each had to fill out a 596-part questionnaire. The result of this is interesting in itself - a "Presidential Ranking", which shows, for example, that Richard Nixon ranks very high among the "vulnerable" narcissists (Greetings from Watergate), while George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and especially Ronald Reagan had little in common with this character. Hold the top positions among the “grandiose” narcissists: L.B. Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, F.D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

So far, so complex. In addition, however, the achievements and successes of each president had to be recorded. The basis for this were various historical studies that provided information about moral authority, economic competence, foreign policy successes, willingness to take risks, the crisis management of those concerned and more. In addition, there were largely objective criteria such as the length of the presidency, scandals, illegal machinations, impeachment proceedings and others.

As a result, the study mainly yielded insights into the "Terrific" narcissists. Their presidencies are characterized by above-average successes, but are often also accompanied by strongly negative (poor) performance (especially in moral categories) (J.F.K and Bill Clinton also belong to this group). It was also found that grandiose narcissists are to be found far more frequently among the U.S. presidents than in the U.S. average population and - last but not least: feelings of grandiosity usually increase during the course of the presidency.

Trump as a "double-edged sword"?

Grandiose narcissists, if they get into positions of power, can become both in the political arena: leaders who are above average - or leaders who are exceptionally bad. In this sense they are in any case one thing: the highest high risk leaderswhich, in times of low temperature, attract increased attention due to the logic of the media.

Note: It should be noted that in the study cited by Ashley L. Watts et al., Differentiated influences of other personality factors were tested in combination, but many questions about reinforcements and weakening of narcissistic personality traits are still open. It is assumed that the negative effects are even stronger in collectivist societies. Incidentally, one must assume that moderate narcissistic traits show significant overlaps with properties and behaviors that are described as positive elsewhere, for example for a confident and engaging demeanor or the "selling" of ideas or products that are not exactly fascinating if presented less enthusiastically.