Broadly they were what we predicted. The main findings in general were that the fearless dominance trait was overall [correlated] to better presidential performance. It makes theoretical sense. But we were also predicting that another set of traits—poor impulse control, or self-centered impulsivity—would predict worse performance. While we found some hint of that, it didn’t seem on average that those with higher impulsive rankings were worse performers. It could be that the kinds of people who are too high on that dimension get self- selected out. Sure, you have to have a massive ego to run for president, but if you’re too much so, if you’re Donald Trump or something, you may get pushed out.
Are biographers, scholars and journalists really able to make psychological analysis? Wouldn’t the study have been better if you’d had profiles by psychologists who’d intimately studied the presidents? I think that’s a limitation, yes. But if I were to have my pick I would still prefer to have non-psychology experts who know each president extremely well versus having psychologists who don’t know the president well judging the person from a distance.
Should this inform how we pick presidents?
We found statistically significant findings that weren’t trivial, but we’re not talking about huge differences. We’re talking about mostly 3 to 5 percent differences [in their performance] being attributable to their fearless dominance scores. These are not determinative. I do think it could help certain presidents in certain situations, particularly crises.
Doesn’t the population of people with egos big enough to think they could become president already mean the group is self-selected to be high on a trait like boldness or “fearless dominance”?
You’re right, plus all of these people have to have run for some other office initially, then be reelected once or twice, and then get to the point of being nominated for president. It turns out the presidents were somewhat higher on that trait on average than the general population.
What about Obama or Romney? Where would they rate on spectrum for fearless dominance?
Neither of them strike me as particularly high or low. They also both seem to have strong impulse control. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how they maintain their composure when they’re asked about things by the press.
More from Jena McGregor and On Leadership:
Mitt Romney and ‘the vision thing’
Behind Mitt Romney’s Libya statement
The 2012 Service to America winners
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