Why are so many presidents mentally ill?

Have you ever denounced corrupt politicians or paranoid business leaders? Are there times when you think your boss is selfish, power-hungry, or even a well-meaning psychopath?

The people in charge of us often seem inadequate to the responsibilities they bear.

I’ve spent decades researching these questions. I found out who gets power, why they get it and how they act when they achieve it.

Is it, as the old saying tells us, that power corrupts? Well, maybe, but I have my doubts.

Another thought, even more troubling, was gnawing at me instead – that something much bigger and more dangerous lurked beneath the waves. Power-hungry narcissists actively search for jobs that give them control over others.

Such people seem to be well represented in leadership positions, from the highest positions of the state all the way to smaller roles in the management of the company. Even more troubling, for profound evolutionary reasons, the rest of us are doing everything we can to help them achieve the power they then misuse.

Have you ever denounced corrupt politicians or paranoid business leaders? Are there times when you think your boss is selfish, power-hungry, or even a well-meaning psychopath?

Fake prison guards who abused alleged prisoners

A notorious psychological experiment from the 1970s helps illustrate this point. Researchers at Stanford University in California recruited a group of men and told half of them they were “guards” and the other half were “prisoners.” The results were exciting.

Once the guards took over, they began assaulting the prisoners, attacking them with fire extinguishers, forcing them to sleep on concrete floors, and humiliating them.

The abuse was so bad that the experiment ended early. When the results were published, they shocked the world.

The evidence seemed very clear: there are demons within all of us and those positions of power freed those demons.

But keep this in mind. To find the volunteers, the researchers placed advertisements in newspapers with the headline: “Male college students need a psychological study of life in prison.”

Could the wording misrepresent the sample of participants? When academics looked into this in 2007, they found an intriguing result. It turns out that people who respond to ads containing the word “prison” are not the same as those who respond to similar ads suggest psychological studies.

In fact, those who were drawn to the word “prison” scored significantly higher on measures of aggressiveness, authoritarianism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, and social dominance, and significantly lower on empathy and altruism.

It raises a fascinating question – while we have always assumed that power corrupts, is it possible that the corrupt and the perishable seek power? This power is not a force that makes good people bad, but a magnet that attracts bad people?

A notorious psychological experiment from the 1970s helps illustrate this point.  Researchers at Stanford University in California recruited a group of men and told half of them that they

A notorious psychological experiment from the 1970s helps illustrate this point. Researchers at Stanford University in California recruited a group of men and told half of them they were “guards” and the other half were “prisoners.” The results were exciting

Discovering corruption by rolling the dice

A study in India recruited hundreds of students and asked them to play a simple game: roll the dice 42 times and record the results.

Before they played, the students were told that they would be paid higher if they collected higher numbers. Some students cheated wholesale – the number six was scored 25 percent of the time, while the number one was scored only 10 percent of the time. A few students were so rude that they claimed to have rolled six times 42 times in a row.

But there was a twist: The cheaters had different job aspirations than those who honestly reported the results. Those with fake high grades were more likely to join India’s corrupt civil service.

When another team of researchers conducted a similar experiment in Denmark, a country where the civil service is clean and transparent, the results were reversed. It was the honorable students who wanted to become civil servants. Liars sought professions that could make them filthy rich.

Even five-year-olds love strong men

Why do we let it happen? Why are corrupt narcissists so often in senior positions?

Partly because our idea of ​​what makes a good leader is ingrained from our early years. In one Swiss study, children between the ages of 5 and 13 were asked to play a computer game in which they chose the captain of an imaginary ship based on two faces on a screen.

What the kids didn’t know was that the two leaders weren’t random – the faces were the politicians winning and runner-up in the last French parliamentary elections.

Astonishingly, 71 percent of the time the kids chose the candidate who won the election.

The same experiment conducted on adults gave almost identical results.

In other words, who the part looks like is an essential part of how we choose our leaders. Part of this has to do with culture, but the evidence is clear around the world: Tall, strong, and overconfident men have an advantage.

… for this we can blame our ancestors

Part of the problem seems to be that our brains haven’t changed since the Stone Age. At that time, there were approximately 8,000 generations, and about 7,980 of them lived in societies where size and strength were major advantages.

Our brains are designed to favor people who look like they might be good at fending off saber-toothed tigers or hunting deer.

Our world has changed but our minds have not. Combine Stone Age prejudices with modern day racism and sexism, and that only makes the problem worse.

Short men also struggle. More than 2,000 years ago, Alexander the Great gave the captured Persian queen Sisigambis a chance. Alexander was accompanied by his best friend, Hephaestion, who was taller. Immediately, Sisigambis knelt before Hephaestion to claim her life, mistakenly assuming that the taller man was the king.

The rally was thought to be a very good indicator of the situation then and it is now. American presidents are always taller than the men of their era. Taller presidents also have a higher chance of being reelected.

And it’s not just height that influences our judgment. All human faces can be recorded by how the child’s face appears. There is evidence, for example, that judges and juries treat defendants with childish faces as less guilty for their actions. In the meantime, political leaders or businessmen with childish faces may be seen as weak.

Enough about you, let’s talk about me!

Egoists not only seek power, but are also good at acquiring it thanks to a combination of traits known as the “dark triad”: they are Machiavellians, narcissists, and psychopaths—which often means they lack empathy, impulsive, impulsive, manipulative and aggressive.

However, these people can also be charming, charismatic and ruthlessly focused – qualities essential to success in job interviews.

In fact, a job interview is perfect for them: they love to talk about themselves. They strategize how to get what they want, even if it means manufacturing lies or fake credentials.

According to Dr. Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford, the ten occupations with the most psychopaths are CEOs, lawyers, television and radio personalities, salespeople, surgeons, journalists, police officers, members of the clergy, cooks, and civil servants.

Another study found that those with dark triad traits gravitate strongly to positions that give them an opportunity for dominant leadership, especially in finance, sales and the law.

Other researchers have found that Washington, D.C., has by far the largest number of psychopaths per capita of any region in the United States.

When you shake hands, as I did, a rebel commander who committed war crimes, or a ruthless tyrant who tortured his enemies, it is amazing how rarely they rise to the level of caricatures of evil. She is often charming. They crack jokes and smile. They don’t look like monsters, but a lot of them are.

Why let confident fools lead the way

This does not mean that all presidents are psychopaths. far from it. They couldn’t be more than confident fools, and there are plenty of them around. However, he showed us certainty in the face of uncertainty and that we are sold.

A recent research paper in the scientific journal Nature argued that overconfidence exists because it is used to help humans survive. In the days of food scarcity, trying something – even for a long time – in the fight for survival was better than doing nothing. So the groups learned to keep track of leaders who showed overconfidence.

If someone tells you there’s a watering hole on the other side of the savanna, and you’re already dying of thirst, inaction is usually at least as bad as following someone with a false sense of certainty.

A series of studies has shown that incompetent but overconfident individuals quickly gain social standing in experimental groups.

Often wrong but uncertain – it remains a winning strategy in much of our world.

Highlight the dark corner desks

History has consistently taught us that people who know they are being watched do better.

But in today’s corporate and political systems, workers are under scrutiny, not employers.

The people most viewed on corporate premises are often the ones least likely to cause any serious harm.

Corner offices and boardrooms remain opaque.

However, today’s watchers are the people who should feel watched.

The world would be a better place if the people in power were more concerned that every step of corruption would be scrutinized.

Headlines change the world for the better

Newspapers are important, especially local newspapers. Unloading the local and regional press is likely to ensure that fewer people fear a free press.

Uganda offers a useful lesson. A review of education spending in the East African country found that up to $8 out of every $10 that goes to schools is stolen. Money financed corruption, not children.

It made front page news, and soon only $2 of every $10 was stolen.

But here’s the crucial thing: embezzlement decreased more in places that were near newsstands. When the corrupt officials are exposed, it only mattered if people could actually read about it.

If no one writes the stories, or no one reads them, the powerful will develop a sense of impunity and it only gets worse.

Now is the time to do something about it

Why are there so many terrible people responsible? It is a particularly urgent puzzle to solve because we are constantly disappointed by those in power.

However, nothing is engraved on the stone. The best people can lead us.

We can recruit smarter. We can remind leaders of the weight of their responsibility. We can make them see people as human beings, not just ideas.

We can rotate individuals to deter and expose abuse. We can use random tests to catch rotten apples.

And if we’re going to be watching people, we can focus on those at the top doing the real damage, not rank and file.

With concerted efforts and the right reforms, we can turn the pendulum back, push out corrupt people who seek or abuse power and invite others to take their place.

Whatever our Stone Age brains may be telling us, there is a better way.

Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, by Brian Klass, Posted by John Murray 6 January, £20.

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