Articles

Do We Elect Narcissistic Leaders?

October 3, 2019


– As you probably could
have guessed by this moment, I have decided, in 2020,
to run for President. (crowd cheering) – So, if the only people
that run for office are the people that
want to run for office, what does that say about the
psychology of our government? – I would do away with
the education, the– – [Man] Commerce? – Commerce. – Sir, so you know who judges me? – That society has. – Not you. – Forget about anything else. – Not you. – These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work. – Question from the adoption amendment. – [Representative] I
ask for a recorded vote on the committee at large. Mr. Speaker– – Those in favor, say aye. (clarinet oompah music) – According to a controversial
study from the late ’90s, politicians score higher
than other professionals on something called the NPI, or Narcissistic Personality Inventory, and the data appeared to show a spike in characteristics like
superiority, arrogance, and entitlement. There was also research conducted
in the courtroom setting that revealed that people
who appear more confident, well, we tend to trust
them more than their peers. But it turns out that perceived confidence is often correlated with overconfidence, meaning that just because somebody says they’re going to do something, doesn’t mean they know how to do it. Any of this sounding familiar? – Read my lips. No new taxes. – Our troops are coming home. By the end of this year,
our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end. (crowd cheering) – I ask Congress to give me authority for mandatory conservation. – I have initiated a plan
which will end this war in a way that will bring us
closer to that great goal, the goal of a just and lasting peace. – The thing you notice when
you go through this data is that the very quality
that get us to elect people into leadership roles are also responsible for their downfall. Things like excessive
risk-taking, overconfidence, a sense of entitlement, and narcissism. This is probably even worse in politics. Even when you tell people
that too much confidence can be a bad thing, they
think that you’re crazy for saying this, but that’s really what the evidence suggests. – Now take a minute to let that soak in. If they’re right, confidence is actually a terrible indicator of
a person’s abilities, and yet it’s on of the
main characteristics we’re hard-wired to look
for in political candidates. This isn’t lost on people in power. There’s plenty of evidence politicians use this hard-wiring to their advantage, and they do it without remorse. – The exception, of course, is that when you watch somebody play tennis, or watch somebody sing in a talent TV show like the X Factor, you can actually tell if they have talent. When you watch somebody
behave as a leader, you can’t tell whether they know or not unless you are an expert yourself. So it takes competence
to spot incompetence, and when we don’t have competence, we just focus on how confident people are. – Maybe this is why several well-known psychologists have
claimed that public figures ranging from Tony Blair to Lyndon Johnson are plausible psychopaths. As researcher David Lykken put it, “Lyndon Johnson exemplified the syndrome. He was relatively fearless, shameless, abusive of his wife and underlings, and willing to do or say
almost anything required to attain his ends.” – I think in order to
want to be the President of the most powerful country in the world and thinking that you’re
going to achieve it, you probably have to be pretty
deluded about your talents or think very highly of yourself, right? – You don’t have any
doubts that you’re ready? – No. – Where do you get all this confidence? – (laughs) My wife asks
me that all the time. – Now, I know we’re focusing
on the negative here, but bear with us because what we do know in our current system, a system in which people run themselves, there is a selection bias toward certain personality traits, and many of those traits are negative. – If you’re self-critical
and you question yourself, and you don’t fully believe in yourself to the point of distorting reality, probably people don’t vote you in and don’t elect you into office. – Now let’s compare the
way people run for office to, let’s say, how our
justice system works. – Not even the Commander in Chief is exempt from jury duty. A large crowd gathered,
hoping to catch a glimpse of former President Barack Obama as he walked through
court in his hometown. – [Female host] Former
President George W. Bush displayed his civic camaraderie in Dallas, though he wasn’t picked for the jury. – When we’re put on trial,
we’re supposed to be judged by our peers, or,
you know, people like us, and those people are
summoned to jury duty. We’re not self-selected for jury duty, we’re summoned, and that hopefully means that we’re being judged by
a cross-section of society and not just a jury of Lyndon Johnsons. At this point, you can
see what we’re driving at. If people were appointed for
office by some random system, sort of how like we pick
people for jury duty, would our government behave
more like a real person? – It is a really good question. I think if it’s randomly,
from the entire population, you’re obviously including people who are less skilled. In that sense, I think random selection would lead to, on average, worse results. Having said that, if you picked blindly from people who are qualified,
that are at least pre-vetted on basic personality characteristics like emotional stability, integrity, humility, and intelligence, then I think it becomes an interesting experiment. – Of course, this isn’t
as crazy as it seems. In ancient Greece, citizens
were randomly selected to hold office under a
system of direct democracy, in which every adult male
citizen participated. We realize at this point that we may be in science fiction land
and in the upside-down, and you might be asking questions. Well, who does the
picking, and what happens if somebody’s unable to serve? But just humor it for a second. Would our government’s behavior shift? Here’s another thing to consider: The way that we campaign today, where a candidate stands up themselves and makes their own case, it hasn’t always been that way. When Abraham Lincoln was
running for President, it was sometimes seen as unseemly for a candidate to campaign directly and most of the work
was done by surrogates. The mindset then was a bit different, or at least there was the
appearance of it being different, in that the candidate
wasn’t seeking power, but was being pushed
forward by their peers. – I think a turning point for me is in the ’60s, the big
era of television stars, and JFK mostly beats Nixon in the first mass volume televised presidential debate, because Nixon looks
uncomfortable and is sweaty. And I think from that moment onward, that trend has only been amplified. People quote Trump’s
ability to use Twitter as a decisive factor in the election, but before that we talked about how Obama used Facebook, and in the ’80s we talked about how
Reagan used television. He was a commercial kind
of advertising actor. – That’s new Boraxo
waterless hand cleaner. And remember Boraxo powdered hand soap in the attractive new plastic container. – So I know people always get fixated on the current President
or the last 10 years, but this is a trend that
started in the ’60s. – So ultimately, here’s our question: Would our government work better if people couldn’t choose to run and were randomly selected, or would we start to see other bad traits like indecisiveness and lack of passion replace the bad ones that we had before? – It’s easy to blame the leaders, but people make choices,
organizations make choices, and you really need to
educate voters or individuals so they understand that
competence is not confidence. – [Narrator] PBS Digital
Studios wants to hear from you. We do a survey every year that
asks about what you’re into, your favorite PBS shows, and
things you’d like to see more from PBS Digital Studios. You even get to vote
on potential new shows. All of this helps us make more
of the stuff you want to see. The survey takes about 10 minutes and you might win a sweet T-shirt. Link’s in the description. Thank you. (digital music)

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