A careful and objective investigation into whether Trump is literally a psychopath

With perfect timing, frequent commenter Robin Jubber has just asserted that “Whatever mental disorder Trump suffers from … it’s not psychopathy”. Is he right?


The Washington Post conducted a dispassionate assessment of whether Trump is a fascist. It scored him 26 out of a possible 44 — a hair under 60% — and concluded “He is semi-fascist: more fascist than any successful American politician yet, and the most dangerous threat to pluralist democracy in this country in more than a century, but — thank our stars — an amateurish imitation of the real thing.”

Can we do the same thing in assessing whether he is a psychopath?

Yes, we can. There is a standard clinical assessment tool, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (or PCL-R for short: the “R” stands for “Revised”, created by Robert D. Hare, a criminal psychology researcher and FBI consultant.

There are lots of caveats to mention here. Although the checklist has been described as “a reliable and effective instrument for the measurement of psychopathy” and is considered the ‘gold standard’ for measurement of psychopathy, it’s not escaped criticism.

More important, the checklist is supposed to be administered by a trained and registered professional in a relevant field, and entails a semi-structured interview with the person being interviewed as well as review of that person’s clinical files. Clearly, I am not qualified to administer the checklist for clinical purposes, I can’t interview Trump, and I don’t have access to his files. So the results that follow should be taken with a good dose of salt.

With all that said, let’s take a look at the twenty traits assessed by the PCL-R, and see how Trump comes out on each of them.

  1. glib and superficial charmcheck. At least, he charmed Theresa May easily enough.
  2. grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self — without a doubt. This is a man who, having won the electoral college, can’t believe that he didn’t also win the popular vote, and who believes he is more presidential than any president other than possibly Lincoln.
  3. need for stimulation — I guess. To give him credit, he certainly gets through a lot of activity.
  4. pathological lyingcheck.
  5. cunning and manipulativenesscheck.
  6. lack of remorse or guilt — the man who claims to be a Christian but “has never asked forgiveness” because “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness if I am not making mistakes?” I would call that a yes.
  7. shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)check.
  8. callousness and lack of empathycheck.
  9. parasitic lifestyle — not in the sense that this would usually be interpreted, which pertains to (for example) adults still living with their parents. But scams like Trump University are the very definition of parasitism.
  10. poor behavioral controlscheck.
  11. sexual promiscuitycheated on his wives (and boasted about it). Check.
  12. early behavior problems — no, not really. All I see on Wikipedia is “transferred from a student command position after the alleged hazing of a new freshman in his barracks by one of Trump’s subordinates”.
  13. lack of realistic long-term goals — hard to assess, since he has actually attained the goal of becoming president of the USA. I think that has to be marked as a no.
  14. impulsivity — check. Whatever idea crosses his mind, he says it; and often actually does it. That’s why he contradicts himself so often.
  15. irresponsibilityno concern whatever for the consequences of his actions: check.
  16. failure to accept responsibility for own actionscheck.
  17. many short-term marital relationships — check, three trophy wives so far.
  18. juvenile delinquency — no. (Being brought up as a millionaire of course insulates you from many of the causes of delinquency.)
  19. revocation of conditional release — no. (I had not heard of this term, which turns out to be legal one. It refers to someone in remand being released on certain conditions, such as a restraining order, but failing to meet the terms and being re-incarcerated.)
  20. criminal versatility — check. This means “a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes” which describes Trump’s frauds, tax evasion, bill avoidance and so on to a tee.

On the Hare list, each criterion is scored 0, 1 or 2. Looking at the comments above, I would score Trump as follows (and bear in mind once more that I am not an expert): 1:2, 2:2, 3:1, 4:2, 5:2, 6:2, 7:2, 8:2, 9:2, 10:2, 11:2, 12:0, 13:0, 14:2, 15:2, 16:2, 17:2, 18:0, 19:0, 20:2. That comes to 31 out of a possible 40. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders:

A prototypical psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40, while someone with absolutely no psychopathic traits or tendencies would receive a score of zero. A score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy. People with no criminal backgrounds normally score around 5. Many non-psychopathic criminal offenders score around 22.

So assuming my scoring is correct (and, yes, that is a big assumption), Trump would indeed be eligible for a formal diagnosis of psychopathy — though he would be at the low end of the range.


6 responses to “A careful and objective investigation into whether Trump is literally a psychopath

  1. I genuinely laughed out loud :-) Very droll. It was meant to be droll, right?

    Of course I’ve seen better science in the movie “The Core”

    Your evidence for superficial charm is “charmed Theresa May easily enough”. You can’t possibly be happy with that sentence as a clinical assessment!

    Still, who knows. Maybe he features somewhere in the triarchic model – or perhaps he’s a sociopath or other low-empathy flavour – but I suspect a genuine diagnosis of antisocial behaviourial disorder might require a little more rigour than presented here. Not to mention the observation that psychology is a soft science with a history of constant term redefinition.

    On the other (tiny) hand – if he’s got a pile of corpses rotting away back at the mansion which the secret service haven’t uncovered then we should probably revisit the issue.

  2. I don’t like Donald Trump as a president, but many of your answers smell strongly of motivated cognition. How is the man who is perhaps best known for “You’re fired!” and “Sad!” glibly charming? How many national leaders have not had such a high opinion of themselves that they thought they should hold those offices? How is his lifestyle parasitic, given that he ran a large business organization that employs thousands of people, helping it grow enormously over the decades? His tax avoidance, legal abuses, and so forth are at least broadly legal; while some of those things are good reason to criticize him as a human being (and more so as a leader), there are very good policy reasons they are not crimes. (I say “some of those things” because the accounting technique that was his most notable known use of tax avoidance is a well-justified and often-used aspect of tax law in the US. And I say tax avoidance because tax evasion implies illegality, which I do not believe has been established in any significant way.)

    Note that someone else rated President Obama and came up with “easily[] between 24 and 28”. I don’t think that’s any fairer to Obama than your analysis is to Trump — it is merely another example of how subjective these criteria are when applied from a distance. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association had to remind its members that it was unethical to do that.

  3. David Starner

    You said in “Spot the difference: Neville Chamberlain/Theresa May edition” that “Whatever mental disorder Trump suffers from (it’s not psychopathy)”. If you deny psychology as a science, stop making psychological pronouncements. If you object to clinical assessments from a distance, stop making them.

    A psychopath is not the same thing as a serial killer. You’re moving the goal posts away from what science has set up as the definition of psychopathy.

  4. I tend to agree with the general feeling that Trump is not a psychopath, or even a sociopath. Bannon and Miller on the other hand… They appear to just want to see the country burn.

  5. Pingback: Why Trump matters to me: I love America | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  6. Pingback: Is Donald Trump A Psychopath? — Decide For Yourself – The Smoking Chair

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