Grandiose narcissism reflects U.S. presidents' bright and dark sides

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | Nov. 5, 2013

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Narcissus was doomed to pine away his life, riveted by his own reflection.

Narcissus, the physically flawless character of Greek mythology who wound up falling in love with his own reflection, hardly seems like a good role model. For those dreaming of becoming president of the United States, however, some narcissistic traits may be worth fostering, suggests an analysis by Emory psychologists.

They found that grandiose narcissism in U.S. presidents is associated with ratings by historians of overall greatness of presidencies, as well as high marks for public persuasiveness, crisis management, risk-taking, winning the popular vote and initiating legislation. On the flip side, the study showed that grandiose narcissism is also associated with some negative outcomes, such as presidential impeachment resolutions, cheating and bending rules.

The journal Psychological Science is publishing the results of the analysis, led by Ashley Watts, a graduate student of psychology at Emory, and Scott Lilienfeld, Emory professor of psychology. Co-authors included Emory psychologist Irwin Waldman and graduate student Sarah Francis Smith, as well as University of Georgia psychologists Joshua Miller and Keith Campbell, both recognized experts on narcissism.

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