Many of us are scratching our heads about what a Trump presidency might be like, particularly in regard to his outstanding personality trait: grandiose narcissism. Watts et al.
have looked at the historical record to note how this trait has correlated with both positive and negative leadership behaviors in U.S. presidents up until Obama. Their abstract:
Recent research and theorizing suggest that narcissism may predict both positive and negative leadership behaviors. We tested this hypothesis with data on the 42 U.S. presidents up to and including George W. Bush, using (a) expert-derived narcissism estimates, (b) independent historical surveys of presidential performance, and (c) largely or entirely objective indicators of presidential performance. Grandiose, but not vulnerable, narcissism was associated with superior overall greatness in an aggregate poll; it was also positively associated with public persuasiveness, crisis management, agenda setting, and allied behaviors, and with several objective indicators of performance, such as winning the popular vote and initiating legislation. Nevertheless, grandiose narcissism was also associated with several negative outcomes, including congressional impeachment resolutions and unethical behaviors. We found that presidents exhibit elevated levels of grandiose narcissism compared with the general population, and that presidents’ grandiose narcissism has been rising over time. Our findings suggest that grandiose narcissism may be a double-edged sword in the leadership domain.
The two highest scorers on grandiose narcissism were Lyndon B. Johnson and Theodore Roosevelt. Richard M. Nixon scored high on "vulnerable narcissism," a trait associated with being self-absorbed and thin-skinned. From the authors' popular account of their work
Studies in the Journal of Personality in 2013 and in Personality and Individual Differences in 2009 have shown that narcissistic individuals tend to impress others during brief interactions and to perform well in public, two attributes that lend themselves to political success. They are also willing to take risks, which can be a valuable asset in a leader.
In contrast, the psychologist W. Keith Campbell and others have found that narcissists tend to be overconfident when making decisions, to overestimate their abilities and to portray their ideas as innovative when they are not. Compared with their non-narcissistic counterparts, they are more likely to accumulate resources for themselves at others’ expense.
The psychologists Brad Bushman and Roy F. Baumeister have found that narcissists, but not people with garden-variety high self-esteem, are prone to retaliating harshly against people who have criticized them. If, for example, you present narcissists with negative feedback about essays they’ve written, they’re likely to exact revenge against their presumed essay evaluators by blasting them with loud noises (as one amusing study found).
Still other work by the psychologist Mitja Back and colleagues suggests that narcissists are generally well liked in the short term, often creating positive first impressions. Other research indicates, though, that after a while they are usually more disliked than other individuals. Their charisma tends to wear off.
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