Just How Narcissistic Are US Presidents? Does Ego Rule?

Should you vote for a narcissist? Do they make better leaders and decisions?

Posted Sep 07, 2015

by Raj Persaud

Maybe we shouldn't be too surprised that our leaders are more narcissistic than the rest of us?

The way psychologists Kaileigh Byrne and Darrell Worthy put the dilemma, in their recent study, was to point out narcissists are self-loving, centres of the universe, arrogant egomaniacs relentlessly searching for ways to flaunt their abilities and demonstrate their superiority.

Raj Persaud
Source: Raj Persaud

So, their research investigated, maybe that also renders them fatally flawed when it comes to making good decisions?

Narcissism or greater self-belief and confidence - is required to rise up the ranks to prominence in a competitive world, plus the conviction that you are better than others is needed for the aggressive self-projection now required much more in the media age.

While psychological research has found that US Presidents (Narendra Modi was meeting the US President when photos were taken which revealed the Indian Prime Minister's gold pinstripe in his suit spelling his name) are more narcissistic that the general population - it has also confirmed that while leaders can vary - some are ultra-narcissistic - yet others are just a bit more in love with themselves.

Instead the key question surely is does excessively high narcissism predict what kind of leader they are going to be - and - in particular whether they are going to make better decisions or not?

Narcissism is generally linked with overconfident decision making, deceit, and failing to learn from errors.

Although the press has focused on the suit that the Indian Prime Minister wore when shaking the hand of President Obama, psychological research suggests the US President may give the Indian Prime Minister a close run for his money on narcissism scores.

Raj Persaud
Source: Raj Persaud

A study entitled 'The Double-Edged Sword of Grandiose Narcissism: Implications for Successful and Unsuccessful Leadership Among U.S. Presidents' published in academic journal, 'Psychological Science', in 2013, from Emory University, University of Georgia and Foundation for the Study of Personality in History, Houston, Texas, found that 42 U.S. presidents up to and including George W. Bush were assessed as being greater Presidents (by independent assessment) if they scored higher on narcissism.

This investigation, conducted by Ashley Watts , Scott Lilienfeld, Sarah Smith, Joshua Miller, Keith Campbell , Irwin Waldman, Steven Rubenzer, and Thomas Faschingbauer, found higher narcissism in personality was also positively associated with better public persuasiveness, improved crisis management, superior agenda setting, winning more of the popular vote, and initiating more legislation.

But grandiose narcissism was also associated with several negative outcomes, including congressional impeachment resolutions and unethical behaviours.

The study found that US Presidents exhibit elevated levels of grandiose narcissism compared with the general population, and that presidents' grandiose narcissism has been rising over time.

The relentless increases in extraversion and narcissism in US Presidents through history, which this study found, could stem, the authors speculate, from the heightened demands on political figures to be publicly charismatic and flamboyant, as media coverage gets more intense.

However, the authors conclude that grandiose narcissism may be a double-edged sword in the leadership domain.

In a study published in 2013 in the journal 'Personality and Individual Differences', entitled 'Do narcissists make better decisions? An investigation of narcissism and dynamic decision-making performance', Kaileigh Byrne and DarrellWorthy from Texas A&M University, United States, found that narcissist do make better decisions in situations where there is misleading information provided aimed to distract you into poorer judgment.

This result came as a bit of a surprise, as the authors point out there is an irony to narcissists' confidence in their abilities - self-lovers tend to over-rate their overall intelligence and overestimate how well they are liked by others.

One possibility to explain these results that narcissists were better decision makers in certain situations, is that it could be that those in love with themselves focus more on particular tasks because they expect themselves to do well. They may be more motivated to reach the goal because they view the task as an opportunity for self-enhancement. Because of their increased effort, they figure out the best strategy faster.

Narcissists, the authors point out, are continuously searching for ways to flaunt their abilities and demonstrate their superiority. So leaders who are in the public eye, will naturally attract those actively pursuing self-enhancing situations. They expect to excel in tasks with the potential for self-glory.

As voters, perhaps we end up choosing narcissists because their over-confidence in their ability to solve problems is much more appealing and vote-catching, than those who are more tentative and more realistic about themselves, and the problems societies face.

Raj Persaud
Source: Raj Persaud

All this research would suggest you, as a voter, may prefer narcissists, but indeed it seems you may even be better off having a narcissistic leader, in particular circumstances, and to some extent it's even inevitable.

But given their proclivities, you should keep a very close eye on them, don't trust them an inch and always be prepared to disabuse them of how wonderful they are, by giving them a good kicking in the ballot box.

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A version of this article appeared in The Huffington Post