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Thread: Presidents on the Couch - their personalities

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    Presidents on the Couch - their personalities

    I've found the book "Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House: Psychologists Assess the Presidents" - Steven J. Rubenzer, Ph.D., and Thomas R. Faschingbauer, Ph.D. - 2004
    It has assessments of the personalities of every president from George Washington to George Bush II.

    It uses the mainstream-psychology theory of personality, the Five Factor Model, the "Big Five". It is like the MBTI, but better-supported by research. There is a lot of controversy over subfactors of the five factors, and I will list the ones in the book to illustrate the main factors. It's possible to be strong on some subfactors but not others in a factor.
    • Extraversion (or Extroversion): opposite is Introversion
      - Warmth, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activity, Excitement Seeking, Positive Emotions
    • Openness to Experience: opposite is Closedness to Experience
      - Openness to: Fantasy, Esthetics, Feelings, Actions, Ideas, Values
    • Conscientiousness: opposite is Impulsiveness
      - Competence, Order, Dutifulness, Achievement, Striving, Self-Discipline, Deliberation
    • Agreeableness: opposite is Disagreeableness
      - Trust, Straightforwardness, Altruism, Compliance, Modesty, Tender-Mindedness
    • Neuroticism or Negative Emotionality: opposite is Emotional Stablity
      - Anxiety, Angry Hostility, Depression, Self-Consciousness, Impulsiveness, Vulnerability

    The authors set up an additional personality feature: Character, a feature that has varying amounts of correlation with the others. It is roughly two parts Conscientiousness and Agreeableness and one part low Neuroticism.


    The authors then got several experts on the presidents to rate them, and they came up with this composite score:
    • Extraversion: high
    • Openness: low
    • Conscientiousness: high
    • Agreeableness: low
    • Neuroticism: medium

    So the average president is outgoing, conventional, diligent, and grumpy. But presidents have varied widely.

    I'll be trying to round up scores of individual presidents for my next posts.

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    To see what range of scores the presidents have had, I took 25%, 50%, and 70% percentiles.
    • Character {10.,46.,76.}
    • Neuroticism {30.,58.,79.}
    • Extraversion {22.,69.,98.3}
    • Openness {8.,29.,62.}
    • Agreeableness {10.,18.,53.}
    • Conscientiousness {51.,82.,96.}

    These numbers are percentages of Americans with lower values.

    They all have sizable scatters. The lowest scatters are for conscientiousness and agreeableness, so an average president is typically diligent and grumpy. Conscientiousness has a strong correlation with academic and career success, so it's not surprising that most presidents are rather high in it. Presidents also tend to be more extroverted than average, though the scatter there is higher.

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    Barack Obama on the couch.

    Philosopher-King or Polarizing Politician? A Personality Profile of Barack Obamapop
    Barack Hussein Obama: The Unlikely Narcissist | A Psychobiography of President Barack Hussein Obama.
    • Extroversion: medium
    • Openness: high
    • Conscientiousness: high
    • Agreeableness: medium
    • Neuroticism: low


    BO often seemed like he was faking high extroversion and agreeableness. With low neuroticism, that made him seem aloof.

    This profile gives new meaning to "No Drama Obama" - that lack of drama included Obama himself.

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    I looked for Big Five assessments of Hillary Clinton, and I also found some of Donald Trump.

    What Trump and Clinton's personality traits tell us about how they might govern as president. | USAPP
    A Psychobiography of Hillary Clinton | Publish your master's thesis, bachelor's thesis, essay or term paper
    Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice - A Comparative psychobiography.doc
    (PDF) Personality Profiles of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Fooled by Your Own Politics
    Perceived personality ratings of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.... | Download Table

    For Hillary Clinton,
    • Extraversion: medium - high
    • Openness: medium - high
    • Conscientiousness: high
    • Agreeableness: low - medium
    • Neuroticism: low - high


    For Donald Trump,
    • Extraversion: medium - high
    • Openness: medium
    • Conscientiousness: low
    • Agreeableness: low
    • Neuroticism: medium - high


    What is startling here is Donald Trump's very low conscientiousness. That seems at odds with him having been a successful businessman. But he hasn't been all that successful, with several bankruptcies, and he got a big head start from his father. Instead, he has projected the image of being a successful businessman while being dependent on his top level of assistants.

    Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are high in conscientiousness, much like most presidents, and they are low to medium in agreeableness, another common feature of presidents.

    I'll compare a rising star in the American political firmament, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, someone with a remarkable personal history and someone who can be remarkably thoughtful and insightful.
    • Extraversion: high
    • Openness: high
    • Conscientiousness: high
    • Agreeableness: high
    • Neuroticism: low

    Her agreeableness is not high enough to make her a doormat, though it is atypically high by president standards. Her conscientiousness is typical of presidents, and her other factors are also in range.

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    LibertyBansTrump on Twitter: "@TheDailyEdge @realDonaldTrump Mental Health Experts released a #Report on what they learned about Trump's #MentalCapacity from the Mueller report. Prof. Bandy X. Lee urges the public to read the report and authorities to follow their recommendations. @duty2warn #UNFIT #ALARMING (PDF) > https://t.co/K8UYRvtEFe https://t.co/4QGbcko6BX" / Twitter

    Report-on-the-Mueller-Report3.pdf
    We write as authors of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which arose out of our professional response to a medical need. The public-service book predicted much of the course of the current presidency and has received high acclaim among our peers and the public; we have removed conflicts of interest by donating all revenues to the public good.
    This is in response to the Mueller Report. The authors find an abundance of evidence in it of:
    1. Compromises in comprehension, or inability to take in critical information and advice;
    2. Faulty information processing, in the form of mendacity, rigidity, self-occupied notions of “fairness,” and poor memory;
    3. Interferences to sound decision making, including loss of impulse control, recklessness, and inability to consider consequences; and
    4. Proneness to placing himself and others in danger, including encouraging, recommending, or inciting violence on the part of his followers.

    In summary, we believe(1) that the preponderance of evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that this President is incapable of making sound, rational, reality-based decisions free of impulsivity, recklessness, paranoid and other demonstrably false beliefs, with most notably an absorption in self-interest that precludes the consideration of national interest. These characteristics not only affect the overall unfitness of this President; they also indicate a profound danger to national and international security in the nuclear age. Whereas we would still like to see the results of a proper, in-person evaluation, as stated above, a personal interview does not necessarily yield the most useful information in a functional assessment. In fact, we believe that we already have enough information to conclude that the President lacks the mental capacity to discharge the duties of his office, and that his incapacity in these respects represents a profound risk to public health and safety.

    (1) What about “the Goldwater rule”? some may ask. The Goldwater rule (Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics) has often been misinterpreted, and it is important that we make clear: the Goldwater rule is a call to action, stipulating that psychiatrists fulfill their primary professional responsibility to society by participating in activities that improve the community and better public health. Our obligation is not to a public figure but to society, and the rule states that, when asked about a public figure, we educate the public in general terms while refraining from diagnosis (or the equivalent). We adhere to the Goldwater rule by refraining from any diagnosis and, more importantly, uphold its principle by acting for the benefit of society through doing what we can to protect its health and well being.
    This report has numerous examples of what was described here.

    It is evident that this president is very low in conscientiousness -- he is very impulsive, and his closest staff members often have to keep him from doing something rash. This makes one ask how he has been able to get to where he is -- have his closest advisors been enabling him and doing much of his work for him?

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    Man, you really like the Big 5 model

    Since you've posted so many threads on it, I think it's worthwhile to explicate the well known problems on interpreting what these "factors" actually represent in terms of psychological traits. And these problems become exponential when you go from merely using the measure as a predictor of some outcome where what the scale measured doesn't actually matter to using it to make claims about how any particular individuals or groups differ in conceptually meaningful psychological traits.

    It's critical to keep in mind that their is little scientific validity to the actual conceptual labels given to these factors. They are not grounded in psychological theory, but are just items that happen to cluster together for countless possible reasons, then someone slapped a label on the clusters of correlated items, where the labels sometimes do not even conceptually map onto many of the items in that cluster. Plus, those labels make implausible assumptions that people are trying to and are able to accurately report what they sincerely think, feel, and do. That assumption presumes not only honesty but an ability to have accurate self knowledge about these things.

    For example, some items that supposedly measure "Openness" include "I have excellent ideas." "I am quick to understand things." "I am full of ideas." Not only is it questionable how those statements would ever indicate "openness", but those sound like things Trump and most other highly arrogant people would say, including people close-mindedly dogmatic about the possibility that they might be ever be wrong. Likewise there are many other items across the scales that for many people can reflect something other than what the factor label implies.

    And those are just the problems in conceptual meaning of the factors, even when people respond honestly to the survey and report what they sincerely feel and think is true about themselves. Even if people are honest, people differ in how self aware they are and whether they have enough accurate knowledge about themselves or the world to give accurate responses to these items. For example, suppose two people are of average intellect as most are, and they are not close mindedly arrogant. However, one person happened to be put into a social context where there were many intelligent or well educated people while the other was put into a context of mostly unintelligent or poorly educated people (doesn't matter whether it's ability or schooling). Even if the two people are objectively equal average intellect and both not particular arrogant and trying to be honest, the person raised around dullards is more likely to think that "are quick to understand ideas", b/c such judgments are relative to who you are around. Similar for many of the items which implicitly depend upon relative social comparisons with other people one has experienced. So, some of the variance in how people respond is just difference in who else happened to be around that person not difference in those persons themselves.

    Another whole set of interpretation problems is caused by the fact that a huge % of the items on the survey refer to traits that most people view positively or negatively. Which means that many people will respond not with their sincere belief about themselves, but by giving the response they think makes them look good to other or even just appear to be the kind of person they wish they were rather than actually are.

    So, if you have one person who scores high and one person who score low an some items of a factor, what does that mean? The promoters of the Big 5 want us to assume it means that one person has more of the quality indicated by the general factor label they made up. But it could just as likely mean any of the following or any combination of them:
    1) They have more of the quality that some items on the factor reflect, but those qualities have nothing to do or even the conceptual opposite of the made-up Factor label (such as close minded arrogance rather than "openness",
    2) one person wants to be liked so they lie and the other person doesn't care, so they are honest,
    3) They both want to be liked, but they differ in what response they think will make them more likable, 4) They differ in what qualities they personally aspire to (which is different than being liked),
    5) They differ in how self aware they are about their own qualities,
    6) They don't differ in any psychological way, only in who is in their environment that they are using a reference points to judge where they fall on the scale.

    So, all that applies to all uses and applications of the Big 5 Factor, which doesn't change that the items cluster together in factor or that some factors predict other things. It just changes what the factors actually mean conceptually and psychologically and therefore why they might be predicting other things. Because most of these other differences between people that have nothing to do with the factor labels would also correlated with many other things. So, none of the research showing these scales predict things addresses these problems "why?" and "what do the factors mean?"

    As for this specific context of trying score the presidents, they didn't event take the BIG 5 measure, rather a group of selected "experts" rated the Presidents on each item. IOW, these results are essentially an opinion poll about the Presidents using a highly selective sample, very few of whom actually knew any of the presidents and none who knew most of the Presidents beyond what those presidents said or did in public, while playing the role of President.

    On the one hand this does eliminate the person filling out the survey trying to make themselves look good or not having self awareness. On the other hand it just replaces those problems with the biased subjective opinion of how these 125 "experts" viewed these presidents or want to make these presidents appear to others, compounded by the lack of any accurate knowledge of what the person thought, said or did in their private lives when not playing a role to get elected.

    I'm not saying that none of the scores are accurate, just that a priori there is little reason to think they are accurate for any particular case, or at most only reflect the kind of person that president portrayed in office rather than who they sincerely were. Granted, that could be even more interesting, b/c then it would say something about the voters who supported the character that president played.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ronburgundy View Post
    Man, you really like the Big 5 model
    Yes I do like it.

    I find it a rather intuitive system for describing personality.

    It's critical to keep in mind that their is little scientific validity to the actual conceptual labels given to these factors. They are not grounded in psychological theory, but are just items that happen to cluster together for countless possible reasons, then someone slapped a label on the clusters of correlated items, where the labels sometimes do not even conceptually map onto many of the items in that cluster.
    The factors are found empirically. What alternative do you have to that?

    (lots of stuff about self-reporting...)

    So what? Experimental psychologists know about stuff like that.

    (difficulties with experts rating the presidents...)

    So what? They have to work with what they can get.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by ronburgundy View Post
    Man, you really like the Big 5 model
    Yes I do like it.

    I find it a rather intuitive system for describing personality.

    It's critical to keep in mind that their is little scientific validity to the actual conceptual labels given to these factors. They are not grounded in psychological theory, but are just items that happen to cluster together for countless possible reasons, then someone slapped a label on the clusters of correlated items, where the labels sometimes do not even conceptually map onto many of the items in that cluster.
    The factors are found empirically. What alternative do you have to that?
    Only the correlations among the items are obtained empirically, after years and numerous studies of just tossing in various statements without any theoretical rationale, and keeping whatever items happened to correlate with each other for whatever unknown and often likely spurious reasons.
    Then they invented non-empirically derived labels and slapped them onto the clusters of correlated items based on the subjective feelings of the researchers about what might capture the conceptual essence of some of the items.

    If the the theoretical opposite of the label (e.g., close-minded arrogance rather than "openness") could just as easily give rise to how people respond on many of the items ("I have good ideas."), then that means the labels are garbage and should be treated as just random words without connection to any particular psychological property.

    If you ask people how much they spend on eating dinner out, and how often the go to 4 star restaurants, those will be correlated. Is the existence of an empirical correlation justification to pretend that together they measure the property of "loving quality food"?
    No, because there are numerous other reasons people could give a similar answer to both, for one person it's b/c they love high quality food, for another its b/c they love social status, for another they give a low rating to both b/c they are poor, for another they give a low answer to both b/c they we raised to be frugal, for another they secretly do eat out at expensive 4 start places but they want to appear modest so they give low ratings, etc..

    What sound use of factor modeling does is it only includes items that have clear conceptual ties to the underlying concept of interest (e.g., "openness"). This is done by writing items in the first place that are designed to test that construct, and having independent people rate how well that statement captures the concept of "openness". That way, when you are done, it's just the subjective opinion of a single researcher trying to force a label onto a group of items after the fact. And that way, when the theoretically connected items do correlate with each other and not with other items, then you've actually tested your assumptions and have evidence that the items do in fact measure what they appear to. If you just through a bunch of atheoretically derived items into to a Factor Analysis, then you get atheoritical clusters of correlations and you haven't tested any hypotheses and thus have no evidence that the factor reflects what your calling it.

    Then, your still not done. Once you have a set of theoretically derived items that empirically correlate with each other and not others, you need to show that the factor scores correlated with other independent measures of the same concept, correlate negatively with measures of the opposite concept, and do not correlate with measures of things that are theoretically unrelated but do relate to the possible alternative reasons why a person might give a response. For example, you measure actual behaviors of people in a controlled situation that reflect conscientiousness, openness, etc.. You can also have people who know the person report about specific behaviors of those people. While those reports can be flawed too, at least if they converge with the person's own factor scores, you have supporting evidence.

    And even if you do all of that, your measure will only be valid for drawing conclusions about aggregated data and relations with other measures, not with making inferences about any specific person based on their score. That is a cardinal rule in science, especially when there is lots of sources of error in measurement. The aggregated data averages lots of those errors out, so stronger conclusions can be drawn, but a single score does not, so inferring why it differs from another single score is problematic.


    (lots of stuff about self-reporting...)

    So what? Experimental psychologists know about stuff like that.
    Correct, which is why the smart psychologist don't assume the Big 5 labels have conceptual validity. The scores have predictive utility, but most of those predictions were not hypothesized beforehand. Researchers just take all 5 factor scores stick them in a regression with every other variable they can get and then find out what each correlates with in whatever direction. Plus the amount of variance explained is generally very small. IOW, randomly replace all the factor labels with letters A thru E and you'd lose very little about the Big 5 that is valid and useful.


    (difficulties with experts rating the presidents...)

    So what? They have to work with what they can get.
    True, but that doesn't change the objective fact that what they got is data that implies nothing about any objective differences in the actual personalities of these presidents.
    IF I want to measure you IQ, but all can measure is what you mom says about how smart you are, then if I claim I've measured your IQ, I am a peddler of pseudo-science nonsense.

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    Big Five personality traits - these summaries taken from there.
    • Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
    • Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)
    • Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
    • Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached)
    • Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)

    • Openness to Experience
      • I have excellent ideas.
      • I am quick to understand things.
      • I use difficult words.
      • I am full of ideas.
      • I am not interested in abstractions. (reversed)
      • I do not have a good imagination. (reversed)
      • I have difficulty understanding abstract ideas. (reversed)
    • Conscientiousness
      • I am always prepared.
      • I pay attention to details.
      • I get chores done right away.
      • I like order.
      • I follow a schedule.
      • I am exacting in my work.
      • I never forget my belongings
      • I always end up being helpful to most things
      • I often remember where I last put my things
      • I give attention to my duties
    • Extraversion
      • I am the life of the party.
      • I don't mind being the center of attention.
      • I feel comfortable around people.
      • I start conversations.
      • I talk to a lot of different people at parties.
      • I don't talk a lot. (reversed)
      • I think a lot before I speak or act. (reversed)
      • I don't like to draw attention to myself. (reversed)
      • I am quiet around strangers. (reversed)
      • I have no intention of talking in large crowds. (reversed)
    • Agreeableness
      • I am interested in people.
      • I sympathize with others' feelings.
      • I have a soft heart.
      • I take time out for others.
      • I feel others' emotions.
      • I make people feel at ease.
      • I am not really interested in others. (reversed)
      • I insult people. (reversed)
      • I am not interested in other people's problems. (reversed)
      • I feel little concern for others. (reversed)
    • Neuroticism
      • I get irritated easily.
      • I get stressed out easily.
      • I get upset easily.
      • I have frequent mood swings.
      • I worry about things.
      • I am much more anxious than most people.
      • I am relaxed most of the time. (reversed)
      • I seldom feel blue. (reversed)

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