SCIENCE – Politicians have a disorder of intelligence

Professor Guy Claxton

Professor Guy Claxton

They make decisions and form policies that affect every aspect of our existence; they control what we do, where we go, and they continually tell us that they know best. The problem is, we may be taking directions from people who have some serious problems.

Not all politicians are stupid, not all politicians are self-serving, but there seem to be common personality traits among those at the controlling end of government, and we often see them as losing touch with reality and making decisions that defy logic or conscience.

According to psychologist Guy Claxton, Professor of Learning at the University of Winchester, their actions could be because of a disorder of intelligence.

Human intelligence is made up of four mental systems that work together, and when one of these systems is not used, the ability to make rational decisions becomes unreliable and potentially very dangerous, and the use of arrogance and pride becomes a substitute mechanism.

In the case of politicians, especially those in positions of greatest power, this intelligence defect can become potentially disastrous, resulting in conflict and war.

David-Cameron-Barack-Obama-Ohio4-460x288When leaders meet resistance, or people express that they do not agree with the leadership, politicians will resort to something Professor Claxton calls ‘messianic hubris’. “They transpose their leadership into a sense of humility, as if they are listening to an inner god or higher power when making decisions.” This is when self-deception and an inflated sense of self-worth sets in.

“Traditionally, powerful people had a joker following them around, making jokes and poking fun at them, reminding them that they are just human beings,” said Claxton.

One of the major traits that we see in many politicians and leaders is a lack of empathy.

In other research, Dr Jamie Ward at the University of Sussex says that power has the same effect on the brain as not liking another person. A person’s empathy for the person they do not like is significantly reduced. “You are less likely to imitate a low-status person if you are high status because you are unlikely to recognise or empathise with them. That could mean that the powerful are less empathetic,” said Dr Ward.

If we look at those who are in powerful positions in government, we can see intelligence defects and lack of empathy in the way they refer to their citizens, often considering them a burden. Their reactions change when they talk about, or interact with, people who they consider to be on the same ‘power level’ as themselves. Perhaps this is why we see governments looking after their own kind at the expense of the rest of the population.

The last 10 years have shown how leaders will enter conflict and war with little regard for the effects on humanity, even though the majority of the population is against such actions. Yet they will justify their actions by using very flimsy arguments and an awful lot of political rhetoric.

You may have politicians in your country who you respect and think are in touch with reality, and who are empathic to the population. Unfortunately, it is rare to see any politician with a positive, empathic or logical approach in higher positions within government. The leaders in power cannot empathise with or relate to them. It does not compute. This could be why we see ‘the old boys’ network still alive and very strong within our government systems.

The political system operates on narcissism and it is very difficult for ‘an outsider’ to gain any influence in government. Until this is changed, we are stuck with leaders and their followers who will not look after our best interests and will do all they can to protect their own kind.

Perhaps an answer is to re-structure the way governments are formed. The problem is, it is those in power who would have to initiate that change. The only way that would happen is if enough people were to organise themselves and become a threat to the power of the leaders. They may then change in order to protect their own positions and interests


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