Monday, December 10, 2018

A Comparison of Obama and Trump’s Leadership Styles


Different leaders rely on different leadership styles and this is no less true of presidents. Depending on the situation they are facing, different leadership styles might serve better than others. For instance, the transformational leadership style tends to be the most suitable when groups or organizations facing uncertainty and need organizational innovation to create a better future (Dierendonck, Stam, Boersma, Windt, & Alkema, 2014). However, charismatic leadership also tends to be effective in crisis situations when people are under great stress (Robbins & Judge, 2017). The last two U.S. presidents use these leadership styles to some degree. Although both former president Obama and president Trump use charisma, they tend to differ on other leadership dimensions. The contention of this paper is that Trump relies on a charismatic leadership style to manage the presidency while Obama relied on transformational leadership strategies during his term in office.

Charismatic Leadership Style

Leaders who possess charisma create the perception of success and self-confidence among their followers and arouse strong emotions from them (Williams, Pillai, Deptula, Lowe, & Mccombs, 2018). President Trump possesses the traits associated with charismatic leadership such as high extroversion, self-confidence and social self-esteem and an achievement orientation (Robbins & Judge, 2017). Charismatic leaders unite followers behind by communicating value convergence, which influences followers to more closely identify with them, by articulating a vision that links the present with a better future, and by demonstrating a sense of power and confidence necessary to fulfill their promises (Williams et al., 2018; Robbins & Judge, 2017). Charismatic leaders communicate value convergence with their followers by focusing on shared values that encourage harmony among their followers (Williams et al., 2018). President Trump communicates value convergence through strong patriotic sentiments, Judeo-Christian beliefs, and conservative aims such as enhancing border security and decreasing bureaucracy and red tape. Charismatic leaders also communicate a vision to their followers through a vision statement that encompasses their overarching goals and purpose and sets high performance expectations that boost their followers’ confidence and self-esteem (Robbins & Judge, 2017). The vision also serves to set an example for followers to imitate and provide mutual support to their leader (Robbins & Judge, 2017). President Trump has used vision statements in both his roles in office and as a presidential candidate. For instance, his infamous slogans “Make America Great Again” and “Build the Wall” are readily recognizable and convey clear and powerful messages to his followers. Both allude to his desire to restore a nationalistic pride he believes has been lost over the years to globalization and cultural fragmentation (although whether his vision is genuine is contestable).

How Trump Exemplifies Charismatic Leadership

President Trump demonstrates charismatic leadership qualities not only by continuing to hold rallies long after his election victory, but also when it comes to negotiating international trade deals. On his first day in office, President Trump scrapped the Trans Pacific Partnership, a hallmark of Obama’s tenure, and has since renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In this regard, Trump has used rhetorical strategies that portray him as sympathetic to working class Americans. For example, he has constantly communicated the vision of returning manufacturing and extraction industry jobs to the U.S. by negotiating trade deals that are more favorable to U.S. economic interests, and by using tariffs as a bulwark against perceived inequities in U.S. trade relations. He has also characterized himself as a deal maker who has the competence and know how to get the job done because he has years of experience in the business sector.

Transformational Leadership Style

While Obama could be described as using the same charismatic leadership that Trump uses, it would be more accurate to characterize his presidency as transformational leadership. Transformational leadership entails multiple dimensions in which leaders focus on the needs and values of the group or their organization and encourage their followers to exceed expectations for the sake of their group or organization (Dierendonck et al., 2014). The transformational leadership includes some of the dimensions of charismatic leadership such as inspirational motivation, which involves the communication of a vision, and idealized consideration (i.e. being a role model to followers), but it also adds intellectual stimulation (i.e. thinking of unconventional solutions and approaches to problems, individualized consideration for focusing on follower’s development, and personal recognition of followers’ performance (Dierendonck et al., 2014). Transformational leaders also tie their goals and expectations to higher ideals and moral values (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012). Like charismatic leaders, they tend to focus on the big picture and are confident and optimistic about their visions (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012). One way in which Obama used the transformational leadership styles is in framing political issues that could be divisive as one’s of national interest (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012). For instance, during townhalls and speeches before congress, Obama would address his group as “the American people” or “we” instead of framing issues as ones that only his democratic constituency should address (Engbers & Fucilla, 2012).

How Obama Exemplifies Transformational Leadership

Since Obama came to power during a financial crisis and subsequent recession he needed more than charisma to be an effective leader. In this regard, a transformational leadership style allowed him to not only use charisma to garner support, but also devise and execute effective strategies to spur an economic recovery. Thus, Obama not only had to communicate a vision of what he wanted America to become, he also had to devise specific policies to get there. The stimulus package passed during his first year, which included tax relief and subsidies to failing industries, is one such example. Another example is the Affordable Care Act to fulfill his vision of ensuring that every American has health insurance, although this never came to fruition.


Dierendonck, D. V., Stam, D., Boersma, P., Windt, N. D., & Alkema, J.(2014). Same difference? Exploring the differential mechanisms linking servant leadership and transformational leadership to follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(3), 544-562. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2013.11.014

Engbers, T., & Fucilla, L. (2012).Transforming Leadership and the Obama Presidency. Social Science Quarterly, 93(5), 1127-1145. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00917.x

Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2017). Organizational Behavior (17th ed.). Pearson Publishing.

Williams, E. A., Pillai, R., Deptula, B. J., Lowe, K. B., & Mccombs, K. (2018). Did charisma “Trump” narcissism in 2016? Leader narcissism, attributed charisma, value congruence and voter choice. Personality and Individual Differences, 130, 11-17. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2018.03.010

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Abstinence Only Education: A Social Psychology Failure

Every decision, regardless of whether it is made by an individual or an organization, not only has an immediate, foreseeable, and desirable effect, but also several long-term, unforeseeable and unintended effects. This is especially true, and noticeable, in the production of legislation, regulations, ordinances, executive orders, and court opinions. The actions of governments seem to be the most susceptible to the law of unintended consequences. One of the first scholars to study this concept identified the causes of unintended consequences as ignorance, error in judgment, immediate gratification, rigid adherence to values, and self-defeating prophecies (Nworie & Haughton, 2008). Perhaps the failure of government actions meant to alleviate social ills can best be understood within this context. This is well exemplified in the federal government’s adoption and subsequent funding of abstinence only sexual education during the late nineteen nineties welfare reform. The idea that teaching adolescents to abstain from all sexual activity until marriage, while withholding information on safe sex practices and contraceptives, will reduce their engagement in sexual behavior and its subsequent effects seems intuitive, but social psychology often contradicts what we may consider intuitive or common sense. For instance, the bystander effect, the classic observation that we are less likely to receive help in emergency situations when there are more strangers around us, runs counter-intuitive to our notion of safety in numbers. The same thing could be said of abstinence only sexual education, which has historically either been negligible or had the opposite effect of what it intends. The research on this matter has shown that abstinence only sexual education tends to increase the risk of teen pregnancy, abortion rates, and does not decrease or delay adolescent sexual activity.

Ever since the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services brought an end to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, an evidence based adolescent health program established by congress in 2010, in late June of this year (Charo, 2017), the issue of sex education in public schools has never been more critical. The Teen Pregnancy Prevention program represented an important turning point in federal sex education policy. It encompassed funding for initiatives that not only aimed to delay sexual behavior among adolescents, but also provided information on the responsible use of contraceptives and other safe sex practices (Charo, 2017). Before this Obama era program, the exclusive policy of HHS was abstinence only sex education, which has historically meant chiding teens to wait until marriage, usually by employing scare tactics about the dangers of sex, while withholding information on contraceptives and safe sex practices (Kohler, Manhart, & Lafferty, 2008). Abstinence only education also tends to provide inaccurate or exaggerated information on the risks of pregnancy and STD/HIV transmission to promote a religious view of sexuality. Comprehensive sex education, such as the initiatives funded through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, also emphasizes the importance of delaying sexual behavior until one is responsible enough to handle the consequences, but provides accurate information on pregnancy risks, STD/HIV transmission, contraceptives and safe sex practices (Kohler et al., 2008).

Formal sex education was initially implemented in public schools across the country in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s (Hall, Sales, Komro, & Santelli, 2016). As a result, adolescents’ sex education vastly improved between 1988 and 1995; however, because of the welfare reform efforts of 1996, the federal government, through the Department of Health and Human Services, adopted abstinence until marriage as its exclusive position on sex education (Hall et al., 2016). In 1996, congress amended Title V of the Social Security Act, adding section 510(b) to include a provision of federal grants to state sexual education initiatives promoting abstinence only until marriage (Kohler et al., 2008). Thus, to receive federal funding under Title V of the Social Security Act, state sex education programs must exclusively teach the social, psychological, and health benefits of abstaining from sexual activity and that marriage is the only acceptable situation for sexual activity (Kohler et al., 2008). Congress also funds abstinence only sex education initiatives through the Adolescent Family Life Act, Community Based Abstinence Education, and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, among other legislation that provides federal grants (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). The Teen Pregnancy Prevention program was introduced as an evidence based and value neutral alternative to abstinence only education during the Obama administration, with original appropriations of 114 million dollars in the 2010-2011 fiscal year (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Since Trump’s HHS discontinued this program, state legislators only have one federal funding avenue for sex education. At present, thirty-seven states require abstinence information in sex education while only eighteen states require information about contraceptives and safe sex practices (Hall et al., 2016).

The common sense rationale behind abstinence only sexual education seems practical. Discouraging teens from engaging in sexual activity until they are married should have the intended effect of reducing sexual behavior among teens, which would inevitably reduce the negative outcomes associated with said behavior (i.e. teen pregnancy, abortions and STD transmission); however, it seems their hormones get the best of them. Compared to other developed countries, the United States has the highest STD, teen pregnancy, teen birth, and teen abortion rates (Kohler et al., 2008). The teens in these countries are not more prudent than teens in the US.; the difference is sex education. For instance, European countries provide greater access to sexual health information and services for adolescents than the United States and they include information about contraceptives and safe sex practices in their sexual education (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Most systematic reviews of the effects of abstinence only education on adolescent sexual behavior have shown that it has a minimal impact on reducing it and providing information about safe sex practices does not encourage adolescents to engage in sexual behavior earlier compared to not being given that information (Kohler et al., 2008). Based on an assessment of two types of sex education programs (abstinence only and comprehensive) using National Survey of Family Growth data, Kohler et al.,(2008) found that abstinence only programs have no significant effect in delaying teens’ initial sexual activity or in reducing the risk of teen pregnancy and STD transmission (Kohler et al., 2008). One study of abstinence only virginity pledges found that most adolescents who make virginity pledges end up breaking their pledge and engaging in pre-marital sex (Kohler et al., 2008). Even worse, some studies have found that abstinence only education has the opposite effect of what it intends. Stanger-Hall and Hall (2011) found a significant positive correlation between abstinence only education and teen pregnancy and birth rates (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). States that have abstinence only education and exclude information about safe sex practices have significantly higher average teen pregnancy and birth rates than states with comprehensive sex education (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). Other studies have shown that abstinence only education likely increases teen pregnancy rates compared to both comprehensive sex education and no sex education (Stanger-Hall, 2011). The most plausible explanation is that teens who receive abstinence only education engage in higher risk sexual activity (e.g. do not use contraceptives) compared to teens who receive comprehensive sex education and even teens who receive no sex education (Kohler et al., 2008).

A lack of adequate sex education is a critical issue that American society must tackle. Congress implemented abstinence only sex education in the late nineties as part of their welfare reform effort, but over time it has been proven ineffectual. Study after study has shown that abstinence only education is both ineffective at delaying adolescent sexual behavior and has the opposite effect on teen pregnancy and birth rates. Given the recurrent negative outcomes of abstinence only education and the tactics used to teach it, it must be considered an unethical policy.

Charo, R. A. (2017). The trump administration and the abandonment of teen pregnancy prevention programs. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(11), 1557. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.4873

Hall, K. S., Ph.D., Sales, J. M., Ph.D., Komro, K. A., Ph.D., & Santelli, J., M.D. (2016). The state of sex education in the united states. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(6), 595-597. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.03.032.

Kohler, P. K., Manhart, L. E., & Lafferty, W. E. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(4), 344-351. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.026

Nworie, J., & Haughton, N. (2008). Good intentions and unanticipated effects: The unintended consequences of the application technology in teaching and learning environments. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 52(5), 52-58. doi:10.1007/s11528-008-0197

Stanger-Hall, K. F., & Hall, D. W. (2011). Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates: Why we need comprehensive sex education in the U.S. PLoS ONE, 6(10), 1-11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024658

Friday, October 5, 2018

How Trump's Dark Triad Traits Have Helped Him Succeed in Politics

Since the 2016 presidential election, much controversy has circulated about Donald Trump’s perceived fitness, or lack thereof, for the highest office. Contentions have especially focused on his temperament and personality traits such as his perceived emotional instability, lack of thoughtfulness, and narcissism, mostly coming from one side of the political spectrum. Most observers would agree that president Trump has a knack for swaying crowds, conveying powerful emotions, and keeping himself in the spotlight. During his candidacy, his blunt off the cuff style of oratory generated strong emotional reactions, both positive and negative. Many don’t agree with his policies; in fact, in the latest Gallup polls, Trump sat at a thirty-eight percent approval rating (Gallup Inc, 2018). But there is one thing that is consistently clear; Donald Trump has mastered the art of self-promotion, and that requires a particular set of traits that not everyone possess. Regardless of whether one believes he is a good leader or a bad leader, he is undeniably a leader who possesses certain qualities and characteristics that his followers do not. The purpose of this paper is to elucidate what is theorized to be Donald Trump’s personality profile and how it effects his use of power and success as a leader

Regardless of political affiliation, most expert and non-expert observers alike can agree where Donald Trump stands on some personality dimensions. For instance, on the Big Five Personality inventory most agree that Donald Trump is very high in extroversion and very low in agreeableness (Nai & Maier, 2018; Visser, Book & Volk, 2017; Wright & Tomlinson, 2018). Extroversion is characterized by the four facets of social self-esteem, social boldness, sociability, and liveliness (Visser, et al., 2017). These characteristics are obvious from his decades long status as a real estate mogul celebrity turned U.S. president. Agreeableness corresponds to a person’s tendency to forgive, be tolerant of others, and compromise or cooperate with others (Visser et al., 2017). A high score on agreeableness describes a strong inclination towards these behaviors while a low score on agreeableness describes an inclination to be vengeful, stubborn, and angered by provocation (Visser et al., 2017). His low agreeableness is evident from the way he reacts to threats from others (Visser et al., 2017) and his reliance on anti-elitist rhetoric and character attacks during his campaign (Nai & Maier, 2018). Other Big Five traits that could be attributed to Donald Trump, but which are hotly contested across the political divide, include low conscientiousness, low openness to experience, and high neuroticism (Visser et al., 2017; Nai & Maier, 2018). Conscientiousness, which is characterized by organized, disciplined and thoughtful decision making (Visser et al, 2017), tends to be lacking in Trump’s impulsive Twitter screeds and reactive policy prescriptions (e.g. when he called for the extra-judicial killing of the family members of suspected terrorists during his campaign). Openness to experience, which is characterized by intellectual curiosity as well as interest in new and novel ideas (Visser et al., 2017), could be perceived as low because of Trump’s reliance on old political tactics (e.g. his very motto ‘Make America Great Again’ was borrowed from a previous Republican president). Trump’s supposed high neuroticism, like his low agreeableness, was reflected in his reliance on strong negativity and character attacks during the primaries and general election (Nai & Maier, 2018).

The HEXACO model of personality provides a different set of insights into Donald Trump’s personal characteristics. Unlike the Big Five Personality inventory, the HEXACO model of personality measures personality along six dimensions instead of five (Visser et al., 2017). The HEXACO model of personality includes four out of the five dimensions of the Big Five Personality inventory (i.e. extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience) and adds two new dimensions of honesty-humility and emotionality (Visser et al., 2017). The HEXACO model of personality has certain advantages over the Big Five Personality inventory such as greater cross-cultural validity and theoretical support (Visser et al., 2017). The dimension of honesty-humility entails the four facets of sincerity, fairness, greed-avoidance, and modesty (Visser et al., 2017). A high score on this dimension entails possession of these four attributes while a low score on this dimension entails a tendency to manipulate and exploit others for personal gain, feelings of entitlement and importance, and a disregard for rules in the pursuit of personal gain (Visser et al., 2017). Given Trump’s history of ethically suspect decisions (e.g. numerous extramarital affairs and Trump University fraud case) and grandiose self-image (e.g. claiming to have one of the highest IQs on Twitter), he would probably score low on the honesty-humility dimension. Visser et al., (2017) cites his low greed-avoidance, which entails disinterest in wealth and indicators of high status, as another general indication of his low honesty-humility. The dimension of emotionality entails the facets of fearfulness, anxiety, sentimentality, and dependence (Visser et al., 2017). Low scores on emotionality correspond to emotional detachment and low empathy (Visser et al., 2017). While this means people who score low on emotionality are less concerned with the effects of their behavior on others, it also means they are less likely to be worried in stressful situations, giving them an advantage in crisis management situations (Visser et al., 2017). This would be a crucial leadership skill to possess, especially in a leadership position as demanding and stressful as president of the United States. Trump’s low score on emotionality could positively relate to his success in business, especially his willingness to take risks (Visser et al., 2017), and could be an important asset in handling the numerous crises presidents have to face (e.g. natural disasters, recessions, wars). However, his low emotionality, along with his low honesty-humility, would also entail a lack of concern for the effects his decisions have on others. Furthermore, low scores on the dimensions of emotionality, honesty-humility, and agreeableness tend to indicate an anti-social personality (Visser et al., 2017). Low scores on emotionality, honesty-humility, agreeableness, and conscientiousness also matches the dark triad: the three anti-social personality traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sub-clinical narcissism (Visser et al., 2017; Nai & Maier, 2018; Jonason, Webster, Schmitt, & Crysel, 2012). This could be problematic for the moral and ethical aspects of president Trump’s leadership decision.

People who possess the dark triad traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism are predisposed to numerous anti-social tendencies. For instance, individuals with these traits tend to believe that the laws and norms of society do not apply to them, tend to have a sense of entitlement and a superiority complex, tend to manipulate and exploit others for personal gain without regret, and tend to use manipulative and coercive tactics in romantic relationships (Jonason et al., 2012). Psychopathy consists of a particular pattern of anti-social behaviors and emotions such as shallow affect, low remorse, low fear, low empathy, ego-centrism, manipulativeness, impulsivity, aggression, and criminality (Jonason et al., 2012). Psychopathy is also thought to have two factors: primary or instrumental psychopathy and secondary or hostile/reactive psychopathy (Jonason et al., 2012). Instrumental psychopathy contains the traits of shallow affect, low empathy, and interpersonal coldness (Jonason et al., 2012). High levels of these traits are associated with emotional stability (Jonason et al., 2012). Hostile/reactive psychopathy contains the manipulative, socially deviant, aggressive, and impulsive traits of psychopathy (Jonason et al., 2012). Psychopathy has been demonstrated to be correlated with a few of the dimensions of the Big Five Personality inventory. For instance, psychopaths tend to score lower than the general population on the dimensions of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism, but tend to score higher on measures of extroversion and openness to experience (Jonason et al., 2012). As noted above, Donald Trump also scores very high on extroversion and exceptionally low on agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism (Visser et al., 2017; Nai & Maier, 2018; Wright & Tomlinson, 2018). This does not necessarily imply that Donald Trump is a psychopathy, but only that his personality is similar to the profile of one. Narcissism is characterized by a strong sense of entitlement and superiority to others (Jonason et al., 2012). There are generally two types of narcissism: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism (Watts, Lilienfeld, Smith, Miller, Campbell, Waldman, Rubenzer, & Faschingbauer, 2013). Grandiose narcissism tends to be associated with flamboyant and inter-personally dominate behavior patterns while vulnerable narcissism tends to manifest emotionally fragile and socially withdrawn behavior (Watts et al., 2013). Like psychopathy, both types of narcissism are negatively correlated with agreeableness, but diverge in relation to the Big Five dimensions of extroversion and neuroticism (Watts et al., 2013). Grandiose narcissism, the type we would suspect Donald Trump to possess given his high extroversion, is positively associated with inflated social self-esteem, but negatively associated with distress (Watts et al., 2013). Narcissistic individuals also tend to be overconfident in their decision making ability, often resort to deceit, and usually fail to learn from their mistakes (Watts et al., 2013). Machiavellianism is similar to narcissism. It consists of three main components: manipulativeness, cynicism, and the belief that the ends justify the means (Jonason et al., 2012). Machiavellianism is usually associated with leaders given its name origin but is not necessarily attached to a leader. For instance, Machiavellianism can manifest in romantic relationships in the use of deceptive and coercive tactics (Jonason et al., 2012). People high on this trait tend to prioritize competition over cooperation, place low value on their community, are more willing to betray friends and associates when they know they cannot retaliate, and have lower ethical standards compared to the general population (Jonason et al., 2012). Like psychopathy and narcissism, Machiavellianism is also correlated with some of the Big Five traits. For example, Machiavellianism is associated with low scores on agreeableness and conscientiousness (Jonason et al., 2012). Coincidentally, these are also traits that Trump is rated low on, but as previously mentioned for psychopathy, this is not conclusive evidence that Trump possesses Machiavellianism. However, his political tactics might suggest a high measure on this trait. In trust game studies, participants that possess high Machiavellianism tend to follow rational strategies that maximize personal gain more than those with lower scores on Machiavellianism (Jonason et al., 2012). Trump’s use of former White House staff as scapegoats to deflect personal responsibility in the ongoing investigation of collusion (e.g. attacking former national security adviser Michael Flynn after he plead guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with a Russian ambassador among other incidents of turning on former White House staff) mirrors these results. His scapegoating of certain demographics to explain complex social and economic problems (e.g. immigrants to explain a lack of job opportunities and Muslims to explain terrorism) also suggests a high degree of Machiavellianism.

Although it may be counter-intuitive, dark triad traits tend to be common in leaders or at least a lot more common than in the general population. For examples, U.S. presidents possess higher levels of grandiose narcissism than the U.S. general population (Blais & Pruysers, 2017). Machiavellianism is also associated with positive leadership outcomes. For U.S. presidents, Machiavellianism is positively associated with the number of bills passed, performance ratings and charismatic leadership (Blais & Pruysers, 2017). Some facets of psychopathy, like shallow affect, are positively correlated with important leadership skills such as strategic thinking, creativity, and communication skills (Blais & Pruysers, 2017). Narcissism and Machiavellianism also predict political ambition, perceived qualifications for a career in politics, political success and an overall desire for leadership roles (Blais & Pruysers, 2017). Donald Trump’s close alignment with the Dark Triad suggests that he possess certain qualities that predispose him to become a successful leader. His past success as a business leader is apparent, but less than two years in, his success as a U.S. president remains to be seen.


Blais, J., & Pruysers, S. (2017). The power of the dark side: Personality, the dark triad, and political ambition. Personality and Individual Differences, 113, 167-172. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.03.029

Gallup, Inc. (2018). Presidential Approval Ratings -- Donald Trump. Retrieved September 19, 2018, Retrieved from

Jonason, P. K., Webster, G. D., Schmitt, D. P., Li, N. P., & Crysel, L. (2012). The antihero in popular culture: Life history theory and the dark triad personality traits. Review of General Psychology, 16(2), 192-199. doi:10.1037/a0027914

Nai, A., & Maier, J. (2018). Perceived personality and campaign style of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Personality and Individual Differences, 121, 80-83. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.09.020

Visser, B. A., Book, A. S., & Volk, A. A. (2017). Is Hillary dishonest and Donald narcissistic? A HEXACO analysis of the presidential candidates' public personas. Personality and Individual Differences, 106, 281-286. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.10.053

Watts, A. L., Lilienfeld, S. O., Smith, S. F., Miller, J. D., Campbell, W. K., Waldman, I. D., . . . Faschingbauer, T. J. (2013). The Double-Edged Sword of Grandiose Narcissism: Implications for Successful and Unsuccessful Leadership Among U.S. Presidents. Psychological Science, 24(12), 2379-2389. doi:10.1177/0956797613491970

Wright, J. D., & Tomlinson, M. F. (2018). Personality profiles of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Fooled by your own politics. Personality and Individual Differences, 128, 21-24. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2018.02.019

Friday, August 31, 2018

Frustration-Aggression Over Adult Children Living With Parents

One story about an aggressive act that caught my attention is a human-interest about a New York couple who sued their thirty-year-old son to evict him from their house. Every major media outlet reported this story last week, but I first heard about it from a local radio DJ. After doing a little bit of digging I found out that Mark and Christina Rotondo, who live in Camillus, New York, filed suit against their son, Michael Rotondo, in Onondaga County court, which eventually went to the state supreme court, for failing to comply with several eviction notices (Hahn, 2018). Michael's parents served him the first eviction notice on the 2nd of February, giving him only two weeks to vacate their home (Hahn, 2018). However, Michael believed this was too short of notice, so he kept asking for more time. After asking him to leave for a month, his parents finally threatened legal action if he did not leave by March 15th (Hahn, 2018). To create an even greater incentive, his parents offered him $1,100 to help him find employment and a place to live (Hahn, 2018). However, this did not seem to deter Michael, who is self-employed but does not make enough to leave the house. To further complicate matters, New York state law does not allow property owners to evict family members; instead they must go through an ejectment proceeding to kick him out (Hahn, 2018). This is what led to the current court case. Acting pro se, Michael tried to get the case thrown out arguing that his parents are legally required to give him six months to leave (Hahn, 2018). Despite his best efforts, state Supreme Court judge Donald Greenwood ruled that Michael would have to leave his parents' house (Hahn, 2018).

It is not clear who the aggressor is in this situation. On the one hand, the parents' act of suing their own son could be construed as an aggressive act since their normal role is that of nurturing. However, the son's refusal to leave their house could also be trespassing, which is an aggressive act. Since his parents are the sole owners of that house they are the only ones that have a right to be there. Regardless of who you think is the primary aggressor here, their aggression seems to fit the mold of the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Simply put, the frustration-aggression hypothesis assumes that frustration always leads to some form of aggression and aggression always stems from frustration e.g. not getting what we wanted (Baron and Branscombe, 2017). According to Baron and Branscombe, this hypothesis places to much significance on frustration as the sole cause of aggression (2017). However, as suspect as its premise may be, it seems to be true in this case. In this case, the parents' frustration seems to stem from their expectation that their son would eventually find a job and move out again or at least contribute to paying expenses and doing household chores while staying there. To be certain, Michael did move out at an earlier point in his life and even had a wife and son; however, after losing two jobs back to back, he moved back in with his parents at age twenty-two and has stayed there for the past eight years. I believe Michael's frustration stems from the fact that he is being kicked out earlier than when he expects to be able to find a new place. According to the official report, Michael wanted six months to move, which includes not only packing up his stuff and finding a new place, but also finding a job that pays well enough to support himself (Hahn, 2018). However, his parents want him out immediately. The mutual frustration stems from their inability to compromise.

It could reasonably be argued that some of the parents' frustration stems from social norms unique to our hyper-individualistic culture. In other parts of the world, especially in developing countries, it is normal for adult children to live with their parents and for multiple generations to share the same household. A study of the living arrangements of older adults in 43 developing countries found that most of them live in a large household with their adult children, who often tend to be male (Bongaarts and Zimmer, 2002). Across all 43-developing nations, fifty-three percent of men and fifty-six percent of women live with at least one adult child (Bongaarts and Zimmer, 2002). Across Asian countries this number jumps to about sixty-six percent for men and sixty-eight percent for women (Bongaarts and Zimmer, 2002). For instance, in Pakistan eighty percent of elderly men share a household with an adult child (Bongaarts and Zimmer, 2002). Cohabitation with adult children seems to stem from financial and economic reasons. In the absence of a state safety net to take care of the elderly and poor women, people rely on their family structure to help them meet their basic needs, as they have done for most of human history.

Adult children living with their parents is becoming increasingly common in our day and age. According to Pew Research, fifteen percent of adults between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five years of age live with their parents; a five percent increase over the previous generation (Fry, 2017). The percentage of millennials living with their parents is almost double the percentage of adults who lived with their parents, at the same age, in the baby boomer generation (Fry, 2017). One preventive measure that could be taken to keep adult children from having to live with their parents, the cause of frustration in this case, is to make service in some branch of the military or work in the Peace Corps mandatory for adults between 18 and 21 years of age. This would help people who are otherwise directionless find careers that would let them live independently of their parents and help others get through college without racking up crippling student loan debt. This would not require the use of state violence (e.g. threat of incarceration) to implement. Mandatory service could be enforced through certain financial incentives or the loss of certain civil rights such as the right to vote or the right to run for public office.


Branscombe, N., & Baron, R. (2016). Social psychology. Boston, MA: Pearson Publishing. ISBN-13: 9780134410968

Bongaarts, J., & Zimmer, Z. (2002). Living Arrangements of Older Adults in the Developing World: An Analysis of Demographic and Health Survey Household Surveys. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57(3). doi:10.1093/geronb/57.3.s145

Fry, R. (2017, May 05). It's becoming more common for young adults to live at home – and for longer stretches. Retrieved from

Hahn, J. D. (2018, May 22). Parents successfully sue to get their 30-year-old son to move out. Retrieved from

Monday, August 27, 2018

Reducing The Bystander Effect In Bullying

How can we reduce bullying behavior in American grade schools? To answer this question, we need to examine not only the factors that cause bullying but also the factors that reinforce it. Even with the widespread implementation of zero tolerance policies, bullying remains a serious problem to be contended with. By some estimates, twenty percent of students are either bullies or the victims of bullies (Jenkins and Nickerson, 2016). By other estimates, thirty percent of middle school and high school students report bullying other students or being the victims of bullying (Nickerson, Aloe, Livingston, and Feeley, 2014). However, bullying is not a dyadic interaction. As Salmivalli notes, bullies have an audience most of the time; in fact, they need the attention of their peer group to get what they want out of bullying behavior (2014). Research into the motivations behind bullying has found that it is often motivated by a desire for visibility, power, and elevated status within the peer group (Salmivalli, 2014). Thus, although only twenty to thirty percent of students are bullies or their victims, the other seventy to eighty percent are involved in some lesser capacity. They are for all intents and purposes bystanders who can assume roles that either reinforce or inhibit the bully’s behavior. Jenkins and Nickerson outline four roles that bystanders can assume during bullying events. Bystanders can reinforce bullying by laughing and egging the bully on or by directly assisting the bully by joining him or her in abusing the victim (Jenkins and Nickerson, 2016). On the other hand, bystanders can inhibit bullying by defending the victim (Jenkins and Nickerson, 2016). Bystanders can also be neutral outsiders that are either unaware of the situation or indifferent to it (Jenkins and Nickerson, 2016). If bystanders are crucial to bullying, then reducing or preventing bullying is a matter of making more bystanders willing to defend the victims and less bystanders willing to reinforce the bully or remain outsiders to the situation.

To understand why peers ignore or even reinforce bullying behavior, we must look at it as a social phenomenon called the bystander effect. The bystander effect is people’s tendency to ignore strangers in need, particularly in emergency situations, as the number of other strangers around increases (Baron and Branscombe, 2017). It is usually affected through two mechanisms: the diffusion of responsibility and pluralistic ignorance (Baron and Branscombe, 2017). The diffusion of responsibility occurs when all bystanders assume that someone else will step in and help the person in need (Baron and Branscombe, 2017). Pluralistic ignorance results from a lack of social informational influence. We usually rely on social cues from others to determine what we should do in ambiguous situations. However, when we face an ambiguous situation in which no one around us is certain of what to do, we hesitate and refrain from acting. The tendency for everyone to hesitate and do nothing in an ambiguous situation is pluralistic ignorance (Baron and Branscombe, 2017). The Latane and Darley bystander intervention model outlines a five step process bystanders take in determining whether to intervene in emergency situations (Nickerson, Aloe, Livingston, and Feeley, 2014). First, bystanders must notice the situation; second, they have to interpret it as an emergency situation; third, they have to accept personal responsibility for helping the person in need; fourth, they have to determine how to help the person in need, and finally they have to execute their decision to intervene (Nickerson, Aloe, Livingston, and Feeley, 2014). Applying this frame work to bullying would help researchers figure out where bystanders, especially outsiders, become inhibited.

Within this frame work, the research is mixed concerning which factors contribute to the bystander effect in bullying situations. Thornberg and Jungert suggest that moral sensitivity and defender self-efficacy determine whether students intervene to defend the victims of bullying, reinforce bullying, or remain passive. Their hypothesis, reliant on the social-cognitive domain theory, holds that increased moral sensitivity, the ability to recognize moral issues in complex situations, will tend to reduce bully reinforcing behavior and increase victim defending behavior (Thornberg and Jungert, 2013). Furthermore, increased defender self-efficacy will tend to be positively related to victim defending behavior and negatively related to passive bystander behavior (Thornberg and Jungert, 2013). In accordance with their hypothesis, a survey study of three hundred and seventy-four Swedish secondary students revealed a strong negative association between moral sensitivity and bully reinforcing behavior as well as a strong positive association between defender self-efficacy and victim defending behavior (Thornberg and Jungert, 2013). Using four subscales to replicate the Latane and Darley bystander intervention model, Nickerson, Aloe, Livingston, and Feeley found that empathy was the single strongest predictor of victim defending behavior (2014). According to this model, the more empathetic students are more likely to notice bullying (step 1), interpret it as an emergency (step 2), accept personal responsibility for helping the victim (step 3), determine a course of action (step 4) and act on their decision (Nickerson, Aloe, Livingston, and Feeley, 2014). Attitudes towards bullying also strongly predicted bystander intervention in bullying but didn’t contribute as much variance as empathy (Nickerson, Aloe, Livingston, and Feeley, 2014). Salmivalli, Voeten, and Poskiparta found that differences among class rooms significantly predicted how often bullying occurs (2011). They found that seven percent of the variation in bullying was due to differences among classrooms (Salmivalli, Voeten, and Poskiparta, 2011). This variation depends on the degree to which classmates reinforce or discourage bullying (Salmivalli, Voeten, and Poskiparta, 2011). Examining two different approaches to step three of Latane and Darley’s bystander intervention model (accepting responsibility to intervene), Pozzoli and Gini found that positive attitudes towards the victims of bullying was positively correlated with feeling responsibility to help the victim (2012). Furthermore, both positive attitudes and feelings of responsibility predicted a coping approach to bullying (victim defending behavior) and was negatively associated with distancing behavior (being a passive bystander) (Pozzoli and Gini, 2012).

Most studies found significant gender differences in victim defending behavior. In a survey study of three hundred junior high students, Jenkins and Nickerson found that girls were more likely to interpret bullying events as emergencies than boys (2016). Thus, girls were also more likely to defend victims than boys (Jenkins and Nickerson, 2016). Thornberg and Jungert found that girls demonstrated a greater degree of moral sensitivity in bullying situations compared to boys (2013). Girls also demonstrated less moral disengagement in bullying situations compared to boys (Thornberg and Jungert, 2013). Adding to the consensus, Pozzoli and Gini found that girls scored higher than boys on measures of victim defending behavior, attitudes against bullying and approach coping strategies (2012).

The limitations of the studies discussed are remarkably similar. Since all the studies were conducted through surveys they all relied on self-reported measures. As such the data gathered in these studies was subject to the participants’ memory bias, social desirability bias, and exaggerated responses. Moreover, since these were cross sectional studies that gathered data from a specific population at a specific point in time, they failed to establish causal relationships between variables which would be necessary to corroborate the Latane and Darley bystander intervention model. Most of these studies are also limited in their external validity. Although most of them used data from hundreds of students, their sample was concentrated in one school or one region in one country, which compromises the generalizability of their results. Future survey research into bystander behavior during bullying situations should not only be longitudinal but international as well. A fourth point of contention is found in the construct validity of the survey measures used. For instance, Thornberg and Jungert used a new construct of moral sensitivity measured with only three items. Perhaps relying on older measures of empathy and other pro-social traits might help us better understand why bystanders choose to intervene or remain passive to bullying. Finally, an observational study would be necessary to overcome problems related to self-reported data. Even a longitudinal study would be subject to them and would fail if to many participants discontinued. An observational study would give researchers a unique insight into how bystanders react in real time as opposed to what they remember.


Branscombe, N., & Baron, R. (2017). Social psychology. Boston, MA: Pearson Publishing. ISBN-13: 9780134410968

Jenkins, L. N., & Nickerson, A. B. (2016). Bullying participant roles and gender as predictors of bystander intervention. Aggressive Behavior, 43(3), 281-290. doi:10.1002/ab.21688

Nickerson, A. B., Aloe, A. M., Livingston, J. A., & Feeley, T. H. (2014). Measurement of the bystander intervention model for bullying and sexual harassment. Journal of Adolescence, 37(4), 391-400. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.03.003

Pozzoli, T., & Gini, G. (2012). Why Do Bystanders of Bullying Help or Not? A Multidimensional Model. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 33(3), 315-340. doi:10.1177/0272431612440172

Salmivalli, C. (2014). Participant Roles in Bullying: How Can Peer Bystanders Be Utilized in Interventions? Theory Into Practice, 53(4), 286-292. doi:10.1080/00405841.2014.947222

Salmivalli, C., Voeten, M., & Poskiparta, E. (2011). Bystanders matter: Associations between defending, reinforcing, and the frequency of bullying in classrooms. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology,40, 668–676.

Thornberg, R., & Jungert, T. (2013). Bystander behavior in bullying situations: Basic moral sensitivity, moral disengagement and defender self-efficacy. Journal of Adolescence,36(3), 475-483. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2013.02.003

Friday, May 18, 2018

Seattle Penalizes Employers to Help The Homeless

If you’ve been keeping up with the national news lately, you might have heard that the Seattle city council unanimously passed an employee head tax for businesses that gross at least $20 million per year. The first proposal was annual head tax of $500 per employee, but outrage from the Seattle business community caused them to nearly halve it and settle for $275 per employee. Of course, $275 is a low-ball figure that doesn’t account for the cost of complying with the new head tax. Although the magnitude of the effect was minimized the incentive remains the same: hire less people. Low skilled, temporary, and part time workers will especially be vulnerable to the disincentive to hire because the tax doesn’t account for differences in contribution and wages. The homeless, the people who stand in most need of gainful employment aren’t helped in the least bit by this new disincentive to hire. Sure they’ll get better funded government services, but what good are these services if you can’t get back up on your own feet? A more intelligent city council would have considered the true cause of rising homelessness instead of arbitrarily deciding to punish employers for employing people, something which actually contributes to the decline of homelessness and extreme poverty.

Alternative Solutions to Homelessness

Given the precarious position homeless people hold in society, I don’t think much can be done to elevate their status through government services. The stigma attached to this “lifestyle” is perhaps the greatest obstacle to digging themselves out and receiving free services only tends to raise people's’ ire against them. Add to this the fact that their dependence on government services can only ever be tenuous because it’s always susceptible to budget shortfalls and you have a recipe for social immobility. However, there is one government service that I’m in favor of, but one which remains unexamined due to current statutes against vagrancy and loitering. Repeal laws against vagrancy and loitering and allow the homeless to homestead on public land. There are numerous recent examples of the homeless, with the aid of private charity, coming together to build communities of small houses, but because of state laws that criminalize homelessness and force them into government dependence they were destroyed.

Oakland Dismantles Tiny Houses at Homeless Village

Los Angeles is Seizing Tiny Homes from the Homeless

Tiny Houses Project At Sustainability Park raided by Cops

However, despite government imposed setbacks there have been some success stories in this regard.

Tiny Home Village for Homeless People to be 100% Solar Powered

Denver tore down their tiny-home village. They built it again, this time with permission

Fighting Homelessness in Austin, One Tiny House at a Time

The lack of affordable housing in big cities like Seattle is a major contributing factor to homelessness. Developing communities of tiny homes provides the homeless with, independence, a sense of dignity and personal space, things they can’t obtain by being herded into publicly funded shelters and treated like children. In addition to allowing them to live on public land, perhaps cities could also provide them with water and garbage collection. This would in effect make them like any other community, and go a long way in eliminating the stigma associated with their circumstances.

Incels Are A Product of Your Society

Most of the buzz around incels - involuntary celibates - after the Toronto van attack is virtue signaling and moral grandstanding by people on the left, particularly internet feminists who have taken it upon themselves to point out the obvious. Apparently the statements rape is bad and you aren't owed sex are beliefs exclusive to their camp. There has been very little in the way of substantial analysis or constructive criticism of the incel community which Alek Minassian supposedly belonged too. One of the few credible perspectives on the incel problem is that they are a natural result of how society views sex and romantic relationships. Sure incels for the most part hate women, but their misogyny is only a symptom of a much larger problem. Incels don't just hate women; they hate society as a whole and 'normies' as they call other people. Although misguided there is some truth to their concerns. A society that is obsessed with sex and stigmatizes anyone who isn't having and/or pursuing it will inevitably marginalize certain men and some women. As long as men continue to believe in the false construct of virginity, which makes no sense when applied to men, and that their self-worth depends on female validation, another words it can't come from anywhere else, we'll continue to have self-described incels. I think much of the frustration is not a need for sex or companionship, but a need to fit in. Legalizing prostitution isn't going to help incels. It might provide other benefits, but it won't stop people from becoming incels. They need to find alternative sources of pleasures, goals and hobbies that give meaning to their lives. I would venture to say that a lot of them are shut-ins that have nothing going for them or work dead end jobs that don't allow them to hone their talents. They might have mundane lives with no sources of pleasure which is why they hyper-focus on this one thing. For example, Elliot Rodger, who is regarded as a saint to incels, had a rather boring life. He lived in a place that gave him the opportunity to take up anything he wanted to do in his free time, but all he did was drive around and complain about women not approaching him. He had enough money to become anything he wanted to be, but he couldn't even manage to stay in college. Social isolation also plays a role in their frustration. Opening up to other people that aren't on their forums would help them overcome some of their hangups and come to terms with their situation. I cannot speak for incels, but from personal experience I overcame my insecurity by questioning what I really wanted. I came to the realization that my insecurity and anxiety came from a desire to fit in and meet societal expectations rather than a desire to find what actually makes me happy. Who knows? Maybe some incels will realize the same thing.