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Among U.S. presidents, LBJ tops charts in 'grandiose narcissism' study

Carol Christia, Houston Chronicle
Updated 7:55 pm, Tuesday, November 12, 2013

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  • U.S. presidents with the highest grandiose narcisissism - No. 1: Lyndon Baines Johnson: CBS News' Dan Rather, NBC News' Ray Shearer, ABC News' Frank Reynolds, President Lyndon B. Johnson during a press conference in the Oval Office of the White House on Dec. 19, 1967 Photo: NBC NewsWire, NBC NewsWire Via Getty Images
    U.S. presidents with the highest grandiose narcisissism - No. 1: Lyndon Baines Johnson: CBS News' Dan Rather, NBC News' Ray Shearer, ABC News' Frank Reynolds, President Lyndon B. Johnson during a press conference in the Oval Office of the White House on Dec. 19, 1967 Photo: NBC NewsWire, NBC NewsWire Via Getty Images

 

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In a recent study of U.S. presidents' personality traits, Lyndon Johnson ranked highest in grandiose narcissism.

While it frequently gets a bad rap, grandiose narcissism may predict both positive and negative leadership behaviors, according to a group of researchers who published a paper in October in Psychological Science.

Grandiose narcissism, which is characterized by an extroverted, flamboyant style, is distinct from vulnerable narcissism, which is more associated with emotional sensitivity and vulnerability.

The paper, titled "The Double-Edged Sword of Grandiose Narcissism: Implications for Successful and Unsuccessful Leadership Among U.S. Presidents," looks at data on the 42 U.S. presidents from George Washington through George W. Bush.

The researchers included psychologists from Emory University and the University of Georgia as well as the authors of "Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House," a 2005 book that presented scientific evaluation of U.S. presidents' personalities.

At the time it was written, the book's authors, Steven J. Rubenzer and Thomas J. Faschingbauer, both lived in Houston.

Fashingbauer is still in Houston, with the Foundation for the Study of Personality in History. Rubenzer lives in New Hampshire.

According to an abstract of the Psychological Science article, grandiose narcissism (but not vulnerable narcissim) in presidents was associated with superior overall greatness, public persuasiveness, crisis management, agenda setting and allied behaviors.

The trait was also linked to performance indicators like winning the popular vote and initiating legislation, the abstract stated.

On the down side, grandiose narcissism was associated with negative outcomes such as congressional resolutions to impeach the president and unethical behavior, according to the abstract.

After LBJ, the presidents who scored highest on grandiose narcissism in the study were Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Angela Watts, an Emory University graduate student and one of the paper's authors, told the website Futurity.org that the research supports the theory that there are bright and dark sides to grandiose narcissism.

"It's interesting to me that these are memorable presidents, ones that we tend to talk about and learn about in history classes," Watts told Futurity.org

"Only rarely, however, do we talk about most of those who had low ratings for grandiose narcissism, like Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore," Watts said.