Apparently, when it comes to U.S. presidents, we like ‘em psychopathic. (Uh-oh.) Biographers of U.S. presidents (up through George W. Bush) rated their subjects according to a checklist of psychopathic traits, and many of the presidents rated most highly by historians topped the list.
Here’s the Top 10, or bottom depending on how you look at it:
1. Teddy Roosevelt
2. John F. Kennedy
3. Franklin Roosevelt
4. Ronald Reagan
5. Rutherford B. Hayes
6. Zachary Taylor
7. Bill Clinton
8. Martin Van Buren
9. Andrew Jackson
10. George W. Bush
Among the least psychopathic are some of our less-effective leaders: Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush.
Okay, so, what the hell? Here’s neuroscientist James Fallon.
Why do we prefer leaders who are, as Fallon puts it, “world-champ liars, pathological liars, even for the hell of it?” Well, it turns out that they lie for us. We’re totally cool with someone being a psychopath as long as they’re our psychopath.
So not all psychopaths are bad people, and not all bad people are psychopaths. According to Fallon, there’s agreement among psychologists that Hitler wasn’t one, nor were his fellow Nazis. Same with Mafia middle-management. And very few killers qualify.
So what on earth is a psychopath anyway? The Psychopathic Personality Inventory, AKA the PPI -R, breaks the required traits into two categories:
PPI-1: Fearless Dominance
- Social Potency: You’re charming and can influence others easily.
- Stress Immunity: You don’t really react to traumatic event or events that produce stress in others.
- Fearlessness: You get off on risky behaviors, and you’re not afraid of their consequences.
PPI-2: Self-Centered Impulsivity
- Carefree Nonplanfulness: You’re not good at planning ahead and thinking through the consequences of your actions.
- Impulsive Nonconformity: You don’t care about social norms or behaving in a way others consider acceptable.
- Machiavellian Egocentricity: You’re so concerned with achieving your own goals you have a lack of empathy and a detachment from how your actions affect others.
- Blame Externalization: You blame others for your bad behavior.