The more narcissistic the US president, the more prolonged their wars tend to be, according to a new study. In sum, the eight US leaders who scored above average for narcissism spent an average of 613 days at war, while the 11 least narcissistic presidents were at war for just 136 days.
Study author John P Harden, a political scientist at Ripon College, studied 19 US presidents who served between 1897 and 2009, then looked at what percentage of their presidency was spent at war. The results were reported in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.
“More narcissistic presidents tend to only exit wars if they can say they won, and they will extend wars to find a way to declare some kind of victory,” Harden said in a statement.
“They want to look heroic and strong and competent – even if it means fighting the war beyond what is reasonable,” he added.
Who were the most narcissistic US presidents?
Harden looked at a dataset from 2000 that assessed US presidents using a Big Five personality test. He then closely examined facets of the test linked to grandiose narcissism, such as high levels of assertiveness, excitement-seeking behavior, low levels of modesty, and a tendency to not comply with others.
Lyndon Johnson scored highest for narcissism, followed by Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Franklin Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton, according to the study.
Teddy Roosevelt was not in power during any major wars, but it’s notable that Johnson and Nixon were at the helm during the Vietnam War, which spilled blood from 1955 until 1975. Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure as president also overlapped with World War II, which ended shortly after he died in office. Clinton only spent 3 percent of his presidency at war, but he scored relatively high on narcissism.
Harden says these presidents tended to have, “difficulty separating their own needs from state interests” and were often involved in lengthy – and costly – wars.
Meanwhile, the presidents who scored lowest for narcissism were William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Calvin Coolidge. Harden believes these presidents “separated their personal interests from state interests, saw war as a last resort and pursued speedy exits.”
“Narcissistic presidents spend more time worrying about their image than other presidents,” Harden reflected. “They also adopt ineffective strategies because of their overconfidence about their own abilities and the conflicting goals that arise from trying to maintain their self-image,” he added.
“These motivations, especially their desire to protect their inflated self-image, cause them to drag out wars longer than needed.”