Stubbornness and disagreeableness may not be traits you want in a neighbor or a spouse, but researchers say that these two traits are associated with great presidents. In research presented at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 108th Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., Aug. 4-8, the personality traits of all 41 U.S. presidents to date were analyzed and compared with historians' views of presidential greatness.
As part of their The Personality and the President Project, psychologist Steven J. Rubenzer, Ph.D., of Houston, Texas, and co-authors Thomas Faschingbauer, Ph.D., of Richmond, Texas and Deniz S. Ones, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, used several objective personality instruments to analyze the assessments made by more than one hundred presidential experts who were instructed to assess the lives of presidents they studied. The experts were instructed to look only at the five-year period before their respective subject became president and avoid the influence that life in the White House might have had on their behavior.
Results of the research indicate that great presidents, besides being stubborn and disagreeable, are more extroverted, open to experience, assertive, achievement striving, excitement seeking, and more open to fantasy, aesthetics, feelings, actions, ideas, and values. Historically great presidents were low on straightforwardness, vulnerability, and order.
Achievement striving was found to be one of the best correlates of greatness in the Oval Office and competence was also a big predictor of presidential success. "Presidents who succeed set ambitious goals for themselves and move heaven and earth to meet them," said the researchers. They say Teddy Roosevelt was such a man but Grnat and Harding were not. And don't look for great presidnets to have neat desks in the Oval Office. "It seems that being a bit disorganized, like Lincoln, is somewhat of an asset for attaining historical greatness," explained the authors.
The researchers gave special attention in their study to the personalities of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They note that both men have been in the top three of every historian's poll of presidential greatness, but besides being very tall and imposing men, they seemingly had little in common. Washington scored very high on conscientiousness but scored lower than typical Americans today on openness, extraversion, and agreeableness. He also scored quite low on vulnerability, which indicates an exceptional ability to tolerate stress and adversity. He also scored low on openness to values, which indicates that he was traditional in his morals and relied on leadership from church and religious figures in these matters. Additionally, Washington scored high on achievement striving, competence, self-discipline, and deliberation.
Lincoln scored high on openness, but his highest score was on depression, which the authors say is consistent with reports that he occasionally suffered periods of deep despair. Lincoln scored low on straightforwardness. "He was willing to bend the truth," said the authors, "although he was usually seen as honest and well-intentioned."
The authors say that nearly all presidents could be classified into one or more of eight presidential types, with some belonging to more than one group. These include:
The Dominators: Nixon, Andrew Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, Jackson, Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, and Arthur
The Introverts: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Nixon, Hoover, Coolidge, Buchanan, Wilson, and Benjamin Harrison
The Good Guys: Hayes, Taylor, Eisenhower, Tyler, Fillmore, Cleveland, Ford, and Washington
The Innocents: Taft, Harding, and Grant
The Actors: Ronald Reagan, Warren Harding, William Henry Harrison, Bill Clinton, and Franklin Pierce
The Maintainers: McKinley, Bush, Ford, and Truman
The Philosophes: Garfield, Lincoln, Jefferson, Madison, Carter, and Hayes
The Extroverts: FDR, Kennedy, Clinton, Theodore Roosevelt, Reagan, William Henry Harrison, Harding, Jackson, and LBJ