Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Ones on Cruelty in Politics

Headshot of Dr. Deniz S. Ones
Many famous politicians are known for their blunt, usually rude behavior that, in most other careers, would cost them their jobs, but yet in the political landscape makes them popular and idolized. Electoral politics are based on popularity, so what makes cruelty so adored? In an Atlantic article titled, “The Point of the Cruelty,” Deniz S. Ones, PhD, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Hellervik Professor of Industrial Psychology, Distinguished University Teaching Professor, and Area Director for the Industrial and Organizational Psychology program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, seeks to provide some insight.

The first answer may be that “jerks,” those who consciously and intentionally violate societal norms and rules, seek out these positions of power, often serving in managerial roles. Political scientists also believe that there are certain contexts where not “playing by the rules” can serve politicians. In today’s hyperconnected, uninhibitedly communicative world, there is an incentive to be seen as more extreme in order to differentiate oneself from the crowd. While politicians addressing those who predominantly agree with their values can benefit from being more extreme and aggressive, working with those whose values they do not share requires politeness and compassion.

Ones has been researching presidential personalities for over 20 years, using the Big Five traits (extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism). Using documents and surveys, Ones has estimated where presidents fall on these personality attributes. What she found was that those who scored high on disagreeableness rarely performed their jobs well in the long run. They did not achieve historical greatness, either.

The takeaway? Being a jerk will open and then close doors very quickly. As a voter, avoid electing cruel politicians and be sure to notice cruelty on all sides of the fence.

Composed by Flora Pollack, communications assistant.