Lack of guilt, fearlessness and interpersonal dominance -- that may sound like a description of a high-powered executive or politician, but it's actually a list of traits commonly found in psychopaths. According to new research, this similarity may not be a coincidence.
A team of researchers at Emory University in Atlanta recently found that the fearless dominance associated with psychopathy may predict presidential performance. The study was published in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
"Certain psychopathic traits may be like a double-edged sword," the study's lead author Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, a psychologist at Emory, said in a written statement. "Fearless dominance, for example, may contribute to reckless criminality and violence, or to skillful leadership in the face of a crisis."
The researchers compiled personality assessments of the 42 previous U.S. presidents -- up to and including George W. Bush -- using data from about 100 historical experts, such as biographers, journalists, and political scholars. Those personalities were compared with each president's performance, and links began to emerge.
Out of all the former presidents tested in the Emory study, Theodore Roosevelt ranked the highest for fearless dominance, according to the researchers. He was followed by John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Rutherford Hayes, Zachary Taylor, Bill Clinton, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson and George W. Bush.
"Politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths," clinical psychologist and author Dr. Martha Stout, who's not associated with the Emory study, told The Huffington Post for an earlier story. The terms sociopath and psychopath can be interchangeable in the mental health profession, she said.
"I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this," Stout continued. "That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow -- but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one."
Emory researchers noted that psychopathic personalities are defined by a myriad of traits, including many that are maladaptive. But this recent analysis opens the door for further study of the condition's positive effects.
“We believe more research is needed into the implications of boldness for leadership in general,” Lilienfeld said in the statement.