Which US President Was The Biggest Psychopath?

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Theodore Roosevelt and JFK top the list of US presidents with highest ‘positive’ psychopathic tendencies.

Now we know the two steps to spotting a psychopath and which professions contain the most psychopaths, which US president was the biggest psychopath?

Of the 42 presidents up to and including George W. Bush, here are the top 10 according to a study by Lilienfeld et al. (2012):

  1. Theodore Roosevelt (1.462)
  2. John F. Kennedy (1.408)
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1.079)
  4. Ronald Reagan (.912)
  5. Rutherford B. Hayes (.824)
  6. Zachary Taylor (.671)
  7. Bill Clinton (.569)
  8. Martin Van Buren (.554)
  9. Andrew Jackson (.516)
  10. George W. Bush (.391)

The higher the scores in brackets, the higher their psychopathic tendencies.

And there you have it: Roosevelt by a short head over JFK.

Actually, I have cheated slightly. These ratings are actually for one aspect of psychopathy called ‘fearless dominance’. This is (sort of) the useful part of being a bit of a psychopath. This is the part related to having no fear, to being charming, bold and taking charge.

The other aspect of psychopathy, sometimes called ‘self-centred impulsivity’—an aspect generally considered maladaptive—showed no relationship with presidential performance.

What the authors were really interested in, though, was whether this aspect of psychopathy called ‘fearless dominance’ was associated with better presidential performance.

To find out, the authors looked at common measures of presidential greatness, like how long they were president, their intellectual greatness and their war heroism before becoming president. Then they looked to see if the ‘greatest’ presidents—as measured by averaging out 12 different surveys on the question—had higher levels of fearless dominance.

Indeed they did.

As Lilienfeld et al. (2012) conclude:

“…our results raise the intriguing but unresearched possibility that the boldness often associated with psychopathy may confer advantages across a host of occupations, vocations, and social roles, such as positions of power and prestige in politics, business, law enforcement, athletics, and the military.”

*  *  *

For comparison, here is the bottom of the rankings for fearless dominance starting with the lowest scorer, William H. Taft, in other words he was the most fearful and least dominant US president:

  1. William H. Taft
  2. John Q. Adams
  3. Calvin Coolidge
  4. William McKinley
  5. James Buchanan
  6. John Adams
  7. Herbert Hoover
  8. Andrew Johnson
  9. Harry S. Truman
  10. James Garfield

Image credit: Wikipedia

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 3 September 2013

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Images: Creative Commons License