Presidential candidates may be psychopaths – but that could be a good thing

August 23, 2016
Credit: University of Oxford

A new study of psychopathic traits by Oxford University psychologist discovers that Donald Trump ranks above Adolf Hitler and only just below Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Henry VIII. Hillary Clinton ranks between Napoleon and Nero.

The current race to the White House has not been short of people questioning the candidates' states of mind. But what happens if you take a more scientific approach?

Oxford University's Dr Kevin Dutton has been exploring the of the US presidential hopefuls and historical figures using a standard psychometric tool – the Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Revised (PPI-R).

Dr Dutton has spent much of his career looking at psychopaths and researching psychopathic traits, identifying those which can be of benefit and those which can lead to incarceration. He contends that being a psychopath is not an all-or-nothing affair. Instead, psychopathy is on a spectrum along which each of us has our place. There are several professions which seem to attract more than their fair share of those high on the psychopathic scale, among them business, surgery, the law, military and… politics.

Over the past few years, Dr Dutton has contacted the official biographers of many historical leaders and asked them to fill out, on their subject's behalf, an abbreviated version of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Revised (PPI-R). As it unfolds, the 'league table' shows that the vast majority are high scorers – including Winston Churchill – especially on the positive aspects like social influence, fearlessness and coolness under pressure. However, analysis also reveals that leaders who possess psychopathy's – such as self-centredness, impulsivity and a lack of empathy – tend not to do so well in office.

Further to analysing political leaders, Dr Dutton recently turned his attention to the contenders for the US presidency. Working with an anonymous, highly respected and seasoned political correspondent, Dutton has analyzed the psychopathic traits of the then presidential hopefuls Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. Like the historical biographers, the correspondent filled out the PPI-R short version for each of the candidates.

Dr Dutton explained: 'The PPI-R does not say that someone is or is not a psychopath. It scores them on eight traits that contribute to a psychopathic character. Some of those traits, such as fearlessness or stress immunity, can be positive. Others, such as blame externalisation or being unconcerned about the future, are more likely to be negative. One, cold-heartedness, can contribute to good and bad leadership.

'Both great and terrible leaders score higher than the general population for psychopathic traits, but it is the mix of those traits that determines success. For example, someone who scores highly for being influential, fearless and cold hearted could be a decisive leader who can make dispassionate decisions. If those traits are accompanied by a high score on blaming others, they might be a genocidal demagogue.'

The results clearly show Donald Trump to be higher scoring than rivals, achieving a total score on a par with Hitler and Idi Amin. Of particular interest, Trump outscored the other candidates in 'fearless dominance', the area associated with successful presidencies, and in 'self-centred impulsivity', the set of traits considered negative.

Dr Dutton said: 'It is interesting that these scores reflect both the praise and the criticism that Trump and Clinton receive. In the end, while both score relatively highly, it will be up to voters to decide whether their mix of positive and negative traits should send them to the Oval Office or the psychiatrist's office.'

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19 comments

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RichTheEngineer
3 / 5 (6) Aug 23, 2016
Trump to psychiatrist's office, Clinton to prison.
Milou
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 23, 2016
And, Bush/Cheney/Blair/Howard to execution for war crimes.
julianpenrod
3 / 5 (4) Aug 23, 2016
Not necessarily surprising that a "scientist" would try to depict psychopathy as just one end of a span of behaviors that shade into the normal, like "autism". Not surprising a "scientist" would try to use that to suggest that all humans are, to some extent, psychopathic. Not surprising a "scientist" would try to depict Jesus as high in psychopathic traits. In his eagerness to condemn decent [people, Dr. Dutton proves he is a fraud and a liar. Part of his "analysis" of psychopathic traits involves social influence or fearlessness. Do these stem from someone genuinely winning others over by decency, or the sociopath using an engineered approach. Does fearlessness come from trusting in God and doing what's right, or elements of personality lacking in the individual? The PPI-R itself is a fraud.
axemaster
4 / 5 (4) Aug 23, 2016
Does fearlessness come from trusting in God and doing what's right


Many people would consider that to be the most frightening personality type of all...
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 23, 2016
Many people would consider that to be the most frightening personality type of all..."

Yup in "Modern" society many people do just that. Oh by the way, how is the world doing today vs say in the 50s?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2016
Dutton has analyzed the psychopathic traits of the then presidential hopefuls Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. Like the historical biographers, the correspondent filled out the PPI-R short version for each of the candidates
Dr dutton gets his evidence from biased news sources in making his diagnosis. Is that rational??

"At the same time, psychopaths are good imposters. They have absolutely no hesitation about forging and brazenly using impressive credentials to adopt professional roles that bring prestige and power. They pick professions in which the requisite skills are easy to fake, the jargon is easy to learn, and the credentials are unlikely to be thoroughly checked. Psychopaths find it extremely easy to pose as financial consultants, ministers, psychological counselors and psychologists. And that's a scary thought."

-Theyre everywhere including my basement.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2016
There are about 100 mysterious deaths surrounding Hillary yet she did not make the list.

Good work Professor!
MR166
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2016
"Further to analysing political leaders, Dr Dutton recently turned his attention to the contenders for the US presidency. Working with an anonymous, highly respected and seasoned political correspondent, Dutton has analyzed the psychopathic traits of the then presidential hopefuls Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. Like the historical biographers, the correspondent filled out the PPI-R short version for each of the candidates."

Working with an anonymous, highly respected and seasoned political correspondent,.....

That statement pretty much epitomizes the corruption of today's academia!
axemaster
2 / 5 (4) Aug 23, 2016
Many people would consider that to be the most frightening personality type of all..."


Yup in "Modern" society many people do just that. Oh by the way, how is the world doing today vs say in the 50s?

Uh... much, much better? I can't think of a single metric by which things are worse now compared to 60-70 years ago.

Of course, that's the objective side. I assume you're talking about the "moral health" of the country.

I mean, can you imagine how ugly it would be if we still had the society of 70 years ago? Racism (lynchings continued through the 1920s), sexism (women couldn't even vote), homosexuals being brutalized and killed by "moral" Christians and the Ku Klux Klan (again a Christian organization) running rampant.

A lot of the ugliest things we're seeing from Trump right now were basically the norm back then.
axemaster
2 / 5 (4) Aug 23, 2016
Actually check that, lynchings continued through the 60's. First time I've realized that some of the monsters who were hanging black people from trees are actually still alive. Great.

Just look at what goes on at Trump rallies. He has a knack for dragging the most racist and hate-driven elements of society out into the light. And just from listening to them, hearing what they have to say about all the issues, one thing is abundantly clear - these are the stupidest, most ignorant people in America. And I guarantee you they would agree 100% with your statement "trusting in God and doing what's right" - because that's exactly the script they're following!

And what's the result? A group composed of people who:
1. Are intensely religious
2. Are racist/sexist/homophobic (this follows from 1)
3. Are rabidly nationalist and equate America with Jesus (also follows from 1)
4. Embrace an openly fascist ideology (this directly follows from 3)
ab3a
1 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2016
The question is whether leadership actually requires some degree of psychopathy. Leaders of large organizations need to be able to break away from empathizing with their followers/employees/constituents.

That doesn't mean they're evil people. It means that to make the changes they feel is necessary, they need to make surgical cuts. And in fact, the best surgeons also exhibit a significant degree of psychopathy.

Most of the commenters above have mistaken the notion of psychopathy with something evil. It merely means someone doesn't empathize well. Both candidates for the US Presidential Elections are psychopaths. They have to be. Whether either of them are fit for the office is a different question.
axemaster
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2016
I haven't confused psychopathy with evil. I'm not even talking about psychopathy at all. I'm addressing the idiotic notion, brought up by julianpenrod, that somehow things are bad because the country is too godless.
Ensign_nemo
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2016
The author never even spoke with the people whom he claims that he is psychoanalyzing.

His only source of data is a political correspondent who has chosen to remain anonymous. He's writing a paper based on one guy's opinion, and not much else.

This is not science, it's politics.

I'm surprised and disappointed that this web site is pretending that it's "science" when it is not. This sort of abuse of the word "science" is one reason why trust in scientists is declining, as they are increasingly seen as just another political special interest group by the public

His conclusions may or may not be true, but they certainly are not proved by any valid method of science.

This is one man's opinion of a second man's opinion about several other people.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Aug 24, 2016
Oh help me Jebus!!...wait...who's that 6th on the list..
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2016
That statement pretty much epitomizes the corruption of today's academia!
Well said. My point exactly.
That doesn't mean they're evil people. It means that to make the changes they feel is necessary, they need to make surgical cuts
-You're confusing the ability to make hard decisions with the desire to make people suffer for personal gratification.

"Without wandering too far afield into spiritual speculations - a problem Cleckley also faced - we can only say that it seems to be that the psychopath ENJOYS making others suffer. Just as normal humans enjoy seeing other people happy, or doing things that make other people smile, the psychopath enjoys the exact opposite."

-Psychopaths are evil. And just because we have a political system tailored to select for them, doesn't mean having them for leaders is a good thing.

It means that the ways we select leaders is seriously flawed. It was created by psychopaths for psychopaths. It is based on deception and corruption.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2016
I'm surprised and disappointed that this web site is pretending that it's "science" when it is not
It's a great topic. What makes you think that the corruption of science isn't a good topic for a science site?
His only source of data is a political correspondent who has chosen to remain anonymous. He's writing a paper based on one guy's opinion, and not much else
Academes can be pretty naive and myopic. It's possible he was being manipulated without his knowledge. But doubtful.
This is not science, it's politics
-You bet.
tekram
not rated yet Aug 24, 2016
It is what it is, a survey, a poll:

"Over the past few years, Dr Dutton has contacted the official biographers of many historical leaders and asked them to fill out, on their subject's behalf, an abbreviated version of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Revised (PPI-R)."
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Aug 24, 2016
a survey, a poll
Yeah you missed the important part.

"Working with an anonymous, highly respected and seasoned political correspondent..."

-So he is being doubly dishonest by equating his poll on historic figures with the input from his political correspondent (reporter).

It smells.
ab3a
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2016
...the psychopath ENJOYS making others suffer.


-Psychopaths are evil.


This discussion is getting mired in definitions.

Lack of empathy is not the same thing as sadistic behavior. We wouldn't want an empathetic surgeon because they would not have the necessary detachment and perspective to remain calm during a surgery.

Sadists may in fact empathize with a person in pain but it affects them in a positive rather than a negative way. A psychopath is incapable of empathy and so may not care what someone else feels. They're only interested in their own feelings.

The notion that the latter is evil is a value judgment. There may not be a whole lot that a psychopath can do about it. What do you say to someone incapable of empathy to make them empathetic?

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