Psychopath Presidents Include JFK, Clinton & Reagan

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

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

Two Roosevelts, JFK and Reagan top the list of most psychopathic presidents, research finds.

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.

Fearless dominance

Actually, I have cheated slightly.

These ratings are for one aspect of psychopathy called ‘fearless dominance’.

This is the ‘useful part’ of being a bit of a psychopath (or sociopath — the terms mean the same thing to psychologists).

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.

Psychopathic 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.”

Least psychopathic presidents

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


Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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