Greatest Presidents May Be the Crankiest

By Eubanks, Danielle | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 6, 2000 | Go to article overview

Greatest Presidents May Be the Crankiest


Eubanks, Danielle, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


America's greatest presidents were stubborn, disorganized and disagreeable, according to research being presented this week at the American Psychological Association's 108th annual convention in the District.

While most great presidents displayed those crotchety traits, they also tended to be extroverted, open to experience, assertive, achievement oriented and open to fantasy, aesthetics, feelings, ideas and values, the authors of The Personality and the President Project say.

In their project, psychologists Steven J. Rubenzer of Houston; Thomas Faschingbauer of Richmond, Texas; and Deniz S. Ones of Minneapolis analyzed and compared the personality traits of all 41 U.S. presidents.

The researchers asked more than 100 presidential historians to assess the lives and behavior of the presidents during the five-year period before they were elected. They then used that information to draw conclusions about the personalities of the great presidents.

As might be expected, a major ingredient of presidential success is their emphasis on striving to achieve, researchers said.

The researchers found that Theodore Roosevelt embodied ambition, while Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding were less driven.

"Presidents who succeed set ambitious goals for themselves and move heaven and earth to meet them," the study reports.

But it seems that those goals do not include maintaining a tidy workspace. For example, Abraham Lincoln's desk was constantly cluttered. "It seems that being a bit disorganized, like Lincoln, is somewhat of an asset for attaining historical greatness," the researchers stated.

A lack of straightforwardness also appears to have benefited some presidents, including "honest Abe." "He was willing to bend the truth," the authors said, "although he was usually seen as honest and well-intentioned."

Researchers spent some time comparing Lincoln with the other presidential icon, George Washington. While both men were included among the top three presidents on every historian's list, the authors said that, besides being very tall and imposing, the two had very little in common. Washington scored low on openness and vulnerability, whereas Lincoln scored high on both and was subject to periods of deep depression.

Early presidents tended to be reserved, but most modern presidents are clearly extroverts. The researchers said this change probably does not reflect a trend toward extroversion in the entire population but is specific to the office of president. …

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