Friday, March 03, 2023

How many politicians are psychopaths?


I suggest reading the whole article at the link:


Brian Klaas
Feb 20, 2023


Those costs of obtaining political power in modern society are real. But there’s a certain kind of person who systematically discounts those risks; who thinks the costs don’t apply to them because they are smart enough to game the system; and, most importantly, who thinks that the power is worth any cost.

In English, we use the phrase “power-hungry” as an insult. But it literally means “someone who wants power.” And people who want power are more likely to get it.

Unfortunately, it turns out that psychopaths really want power—and are very good at getting it. There are, as we’ll soon see, a disproportionate number of psychopaths in politics (and business), destructive figures who have been dubbed “snakes in suits.”

That’s why the dedication of my last book, Corruptible, reads as follows: “To all the nice, non-psychopaths out there who should be in power but aren’t.”


When I interviewed psychopath experts about their research, all of them made two key points. First, psychopaths are known for superficial charm, which is useful both a serial killer luring victims to their car and for winning elections.

Second, psychopaths can be split into two categories: successful and unsuccessful, or disciplined and undisciplined. The unsuccessful psychopaths are unable to control their impulses. They end up in prison as abusers and serial killers. Where do the successful psychopaths end up? Too often, in board rooms and public office.


Because psychopathy exists on a spectrum, the prevalence of psychopaths in leadership positions relative to the general public depends on how you measure it. But the evidence is really clear that psychopaths are vastly over-represented in positions of power. Depending on the study you look at, the numbers range from four times to one hundred times more psychopaths in positions of leadership than in the general population, with some of the best studies putting the figure closer to twenty-five times higher.

The kind of politician may matter, too. A recent analysis by Alessandro Nai found that populist candidates are particularly likely to score higher on measures of disagreeable narcissism and psychopathy. 


Similarly, when it comes to politics, a wide array of research has suggested that psychopaths may be better at getting power, but are worse at wielding it. Leanne ten Brinke from the University of British Columbia told me about her research, which shows that politicians with more psychopathic traits are less effective when they become higher in the political hierarchy within Congress.

It’s difficult to draw sweeping conclusions from limited observational data, of course, but it all points in the same direction: psychopaths are better than the rest of us at getting power, but eventually become less effective leaders—and are often highly destructive before they’re taken down by their own vices.


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