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March 11, 2016 Update


A psychological analysis of retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson — a contender for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election — by Hannah Hoppe and Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D., at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, revealed that Carson’s most prominent personality patterns are Dominant/assertive, Ambitious/confident, and Conscientious/respectful. In summary, Carson’s personality composite can be characterized as a confident, deliberative organizer.

Carson poster (2015-08)
Click on image for larger view

Following is a summary of the major findings of the study, as published in an opinion column in the St. Cloud Times.


Carson’s Restraint May Keep Him from the Top Spot

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks Aug. 27 at a rally in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Photo: AP)

By Hannah Hoppe
St. Cloud Times
August 30, 2015

“The first person ever to go under Dr. Ben Carson’s knife … was stabbed by him in school.”

With such an eventful chapter in his childhood history, psychological analysis of pediatric neurosurgeon and 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson seems almost disappointing, revealed nothing quite so dramatic. In fact, Carson’s personality profile turns out to be rather unremarkable — for a presidential candidate, that is.

Matt K. Lewis relates the story of Carson’s boyhood stabbing in the Daily Caller (“The time Dr. Ben Carson knifed someone,” June 12, 2014). While psychoanalytically oriented analysts might be tempted to speculate that Carson sublimated — channeled — his deep-seated aggressive impulses into his chosen profession, we won’t go there.

Instead, we conducted a comprehensive empirical analysis of Carson’s character this summer at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University’s Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics for insight into Carson’s typical patterns of thinking, acting, feeling and relating to others — that is, his personality.

Assertive, confident, respectful

The most prominent feature of Carson’s personality profile, as measured by the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria, is that he has no extreme elevations, in stark contrast to some of his competitors — such as Donald Trump with his spikes on aggressiveness, narcissism and extroversion, or Jeb Bush with his conspicuous scale elevations on conscientiousness and introversion.

In short, Carson’s profile is relatively flat, suggesting a well-balanced, even-keeled personality relatively flexible in the ability to respond adaptively to a broad range of situational demands.

The key drivers for Carson are the dominant/assertive, ambitious/ confident and conscientious/respectful patterns. People with a combination of dominant and ambitious traits are typically characterized as strong-willed, competitive and driven to succeed.

Furthermore, moderately conscientious people like Carson are classically earnest, polite, respectful, principled personalities with a strong work ethic.

Political implications

Despite possessing personality traits that signify fitness to govern, the sedate, composed persona projected by those traits, ironically, entails that Carson likely will encounter difficulty — unlike, say, Trump — to draw attention to himself and capture the earned media instrumental in elevating a candidate to a position of prominence in the large Republican field.

Given his understated, soft-spoken, unpretentious personality, it’s noteworthy that Carson is one of just three candidates to raise his stock significantly in the Aug. 6 Fox News debate — from 7 percent in the last Fox News GOP preference poll prior to the debate to 12 percent post-debate. (The other stock-raisers were Ted Cruz, from 6 percent to 10 percent, and Carly Fiorina, from 2 percent to 5 percent.)

Carson’s rise is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that he was one of the most overlooked candidates in the debate. According to the New York Times, Carson spoke for just 6 minutes and 48 seconds, compared with 11 minutes, 14 seconds for Trump and only marginally more than Rand Paul, who brought up the rear with 5 minutes and 28 seconds at the mic.

To reiterate, there’s really nothing in Carson’s profile to suggest he should have raised his poll numbers to the extent he did in the debate. For example, like Bush and Scott Walker, he’s quite conscientious, a quality that does not play well with voters (because it makes a candidate seem boring) and not particularly extraverted (which makes a candidate appear animated and engaging).

What lifts Carson?

It’s possible Carson improved his standing in the polls merely by dint of his memorable closing statement, which played well with the audience and received broad coverage in the media, in particular his pithy remark, “I’m the only one (among the presidential hopefuls) to take out half of a brain, although you would think, if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it.”

Notably, Carson’s witty rejoinder reflects the self-deprecating, dry humor sometimes found in conscientious personalities; however, along with introversion, that particular personality trait does not play well in retail politics. What does pay dividends in popularity points is a candidate who is publicly perceived as highly dominant, supremely self-confident and energetically outgoing — which sounds like Trump, not Carson.

Ultimately, our best take on Carson’s rise in the polls is that good numbers of voters do, in fact, respond favorably to someone as restrained and unpretentious as Carson. Perhaps not enough to make him king of the hill, but sufficient to lift him to his present perch comfortably at second place in the polls.

This is the opinion of Hannah Hoppe, St. Cloud, a senior psychology major at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, where she is a summer research fellow in the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, directed by Aubrey Immelman.

Hoppe-Hannah_2015 (cropped)
Hannah Hoppe, St. Cloud (Submitted photo)

About this series

This is the sixth in an occasional series of personality profiles of most of the Republican candidates in the 2016 presidential election. Hannah Hoppe is a research assistant at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, a collaborative faculty–student research program in the psychology of politics at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, led by associate professor Aubrey Immelman, who specializes in the psychological assessment of presidential candidates and world leaders.

The unit’s summer research program focused on GOP contenders because of the unprecedented number of presidential hopefuls and the unit’s mission to help the public make better informed voting choices. Major Democratic candidates will be profiled next spring.


Note: Presidential Electability Index (political impact) score

Ben Carson scores moderately on the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria-based Personal Electability Index, which has accurately predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1996.

Following are the PEI calculations for Ben Carson:

Ben Carson: PEI = 13

Scale:  1A    1B     2    3    4    5A    5B    6    7    8
Score:   8      4       7    2    2     0       2     7    2    1

Scale: 1A = 8; 2 = 7; 3 = 2; 6 = 7; 8 = 1

[Extraversion (scale 3) = 2] + [Narcissism (scale 2) = 7] + [Dominance (scale 1) = 8] – [Introversion (scale 8) = 1] – [Conscientiousness (scale 6) = (7 – 4) = 3] = 17 – 4 = 13


Related report

Trump, Carson in Close Fight in Iowa Poll

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By Mark Hensch

August 27, 2015


Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businessman Donald Trump are neck-and-neck for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination in Iowa, a new poll says.

The Bloomberg/Des Moines Register survey released on Saturday finds that the two are tied in Iowa caucus-goer support when voters’ first and second choices for the Republican coronation are combined.

Each is the first or second choice of 32 percent of respondents.

Trump won the poll overall, getting 23 percent support. Carson comes in second at 18 percent. …

“Trump and Carson, one bombastic and the other sometimes soft-spoken, could hardly be more different in their outward presentations,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., who conducted the poll, according to Bloomberg.

“Yet they’re both finding traction because they don’t seem like politicians and there’s a strong demand for that right now,” she added.

Saturday’s poll found that Trump is vastly improving his position in Iowa since launching his presidential campaign in June.

He is now rated favorably by 61 percent of Republican voters there, with 35 percent ranking him unfavorably. …

The survey found that Carson is buoyed in Iowa by his likable public persona and his vocal Christian faith.

It said that 79 percent likely GOP caucus-goers view the retired neurosurgeon favorably, the highest score in the GOP’s entire 2016 field. …

Read the full report


Related report

Ben Carson’s Secret Weapon: He’s Getting Better With Age

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina May 9, 2015. (REUTERS/Chris Keane)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina May 9, 2015. (Photo: Chris Keane / Reuters)

By Matt K. Lewis
The Daily Caller
September 2, 2015


Ben Carson is the rarest of political candidates: He actually learns from his mistakes. …

If politicians are known to have egos, then you might expect a world-class surgeon (a profession that lends itself to developing a god complex!) to have a huge one. But a willingness to learn is a sign of humility, and Dr. Carson is showing signs that he is introspective and self-critical. …

The good news for Carson is that he has continued to perform well in the polls, even as he has tempered his rhetoric to match his personality. …

Like Trump (and Fiorina), Carson ironically benefits from having zero elected experience. And like Trump, he holds to some unorthodox ideas for a conservative. But Carson is also a highly respected neurosurgeon, an African-American Republican with a tremendous personal story, and a man who is utterly compelling and impossible to dislike. …

If and when Donald Trump stumbles or recedes, don’t be surprised if Dr. Ben Carson gets his moment (or maybe more?) in the spotlight. And when that moment comes, we will see if he really has learned his lesson, and is prepared to seize the day.

Could he become president? Everything I know about history and politics suggests he won’t. But then again, the rules are in flux. If a poor boy from Detroit can grow up to become so famous that the make a TV movie about him, it’s hard to count that man out.

Read the full report


10/27/2015 Update



Related reports on this site

Projecting the Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election: The Personal Electability Index (Feb. 29, 2016)

Getty Images

Why Donald Trump Beats Jeb Bush: The Personal Electability Index (Aug. 23, 2015)

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Comparative Psychological Profiles of the GOP Field (Aug. 6, 2015)

Fox News candidates on stage

5 Responses to “The Personality Profile of 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Ben Carson”
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    […] Ben Carson — Psychological profile completed September 2015 […]

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