Researchers at the University of British Columbia have just put out results of a “psychological analysis” of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Announcing the results via a news release Nov. 8, the university said, “Contrary to what might be expected, grandiosity, simplistic language and rampant Twitter activity were statistical predictors of success in the Republican primaries. Although Trump’s bombastic communication style was shocking — even detestable to many viewers — our research suggests that this style helped him win the Republican nomination.”
The results were put out before the election results were clear following the end of polling in the U.S. Tuesday night.
“Trump’s outrageous statements over the course of the campaign led many political pundits to underestimate his chances of success,” according to supervising author Delroy L. Paulhus, a personality psychology researcher and professor at UBC. Sara Ahmadian and Sara Azarshahi were co-authors of the study titled, “Explaining Trump via Communication Style: Grandiosity, Informality, and Dynamism”.
New Canadian Media interviewed one of the researchers, Sara Ahmadian, via an e-mail exchange.
Q: Does your study offer any insights into what sort of president Trump will be? Specifically, will he be a disruptor or a conciliator? Will he keep his promises, specifically as it relates to Muslim immigrants and building a wall with Mexico? Temperamentally, can he really be a “president for all Americans”? And, most importantly, are America’s nuclear missile codes safe in his hands?
A: The qualities that got him elected may impair his ability to get things done. An effective leader must have self-control, ability to compromise and complex thought. You have to be able to listen and take criticism. These are not Trump’s strongest points. Previous research has shown that leaders who are able to use more complex rhetoric while in office are more effective leaders, but Trump is mostly known for his informal style.
Whether he can switch is a question that only time will answer. Previous research has also shown that presidents with styles similar to Trump’s have had more scandals while in office. So, my prediction is that the Trump drama will continue on. Trump has also been known to flip-flop between ideas and policies.
We cannot determine if he will keep his promises. However, we have to keep in mind that many of the things that Trump wants to do will have to pass through the Senate. So, in conclusion, while I argue that he will not be the most effective leader, I think the nuclear missile codes will be safe. However, I cannot guarantee that he will not threaten to use them.
Q: In terms of psychological profile, what type would best describe Donald Trump? Does his profile match any other international leader?
A: I would say he has a highly narcissistic personality. I think that’s the one aspect that stands out the most considering his level of boasting. To the extent to which there are other international leaders like him, I would say the one person that stands out the most is the U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Interestingly enough, Farage is a big supporter of Trump.
Q: Does your study explain or provide any insights into why Trump was particularly critical of immigrants in the campaign?
A: Our study doesn’t directly address this question. But, indirectly, if we think about the social context that has allowed Trump to be successful then that might provide some information as to why immigrants are the target. Americans and most of the world are currently extremely fearful of immigrants, especially because of the world events such as war in Syria or even the simple problems such as financial instability. These types of events can lead to personality styles such as Trump. These styles need a scapegoat and at times it is the immigrant population that suffers. I mean examples [such as] Brexit, the rise of Norbert Hofer in Austria or Geert Wilders in The Netherlands.
Q: Any lessons we can draw in Canada? Can a similar candidate gain traction here?
A: I think we were very lucky in regards to the timing of our election. Although it has been said that we are more liberal than the U.S, it is important to point out that had a big terrorist event happened prior to the election in Canada, we might have chosen an individual more similar to Trump’s style.
Q: What was it about this candidate that made him a good case study?
A: Well, when Trump announced his bid to for the presidency, everyone thought it was a joke and it would be over in a month. In addition, all the experts said there is no way that Trump would continue or win the nomination. They all believed that Jeb Bush would be the nominee. Time and time again, it was revealed that all of these experts were wrong and that we have underestimated Trump. So the question became, how could we have been so wrong?
Furthermore, I work in a dark personality lab and Donald Trump is the greatest example of a narcissist.
Q: What does your study tell us about those who voted for Trump? Why didn’t they see through his vacuous campaign?
A: What our study tells us is that we have been focusing too much on the content rather than Trump’s style, in explaining his success. If you look at interviews with Trump supporters, they usually say they don’t know what Trump’s policies are and they don’t care. What separates Trump and helped to make him a successful candidate was his style. These supporters can relate to Trump because of his informal style and they see him as a very successful individual thanks to how often Trump over-exaggerates and boasts about his accomplishments.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and updated following President-elect Donald Trump’s win.