Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House: Psychologists Assess the Presidents.

Author:Baas, Larry
Position:Book Review

Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House: Psychologists Assess the Presidents. By Steven J. Rubenzer and Thomas R. Faschingbauer. London: Brassey's, 2004. 385 pp.

This book is part of a larger project on personality in history, in which the authors attempt to objectively assess the personality characteristics of a wide variety of public figures in history and contemporary life. In this volume, they describe the personality characteristics of all U.S. presidents.

Rubenzer and Faschingbauer are critical of efforts to describe the personalities of presidents, especially biographies, which they refer to as "highly subjective" and guided by "idiosyncratic standards" (p. x). They call for an objective approach built around "science and technology" (p. xii). Their scientific approach is to provide "experts" on presidents a questionnaire that allows them to describe "objectively" the personalities of U.S. presidents. They received responses from 117 out of an initial list of 1,200 academics, biographers, and others who had some knowledge of either one or more presidents. These persons were provided a questionnaire containing 620 individual items that were used to describe a particular president. A second group of "generalists" was recruited. Seven of these completed a much briefer questionnaire on all of the presidents, and ten completed a presidential performance questionnaire.

The items for the main questionnaire were taken from several sources, including the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, Jack Block's California Q sort, and various adjectives from other sources. Items were rated on either a five- or nine-point scale. The most important component of the questionnaire is the NEO personality inventory (which the book does not provide) that contains scales to measure "the Big Five personality traits": neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Each of the traits also includes six "facet scales." For example, the facets of neuroticism include measures of anxiety, anger/hostility, depression, self-consciousness, impulsiveness, and vulnerability. Thus, each president receives a score on each of the big five traits as well as on each scale. An important benefit in using these established scales is that "norms" have been developed so that the presidents can be compared not only to one another, but also to the general population. In addition, the authors create several scales to measure...

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