Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Adding “hubris” to DSM-5

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Evan Osnos writes in the New Yorker:

In February, 2009, the British medical journal Brain published an article on the intersection of health and politics titled “Hubris Syndrome: An Acquired Personality Disorder?” The authors were David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary, who is also a physician and neuroscientist, and Jonathan Davidson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, who has studied the mental health of politicians. They proposed the creation of a psychiatric disorder for leaders who exhibited, among other qualities, “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate.”

Owen and Davidson studied the behavior and medical records of dozens of American and British political leaders, from Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, who took office in 1908, to President George W. Bush, who left office in 2009. Across that century, they identified a tendency among some otherwise high-achieving individuals to close themselves off from critics and to overestimate their odds of success. Neville Chamberlain wrongly believed that he could appease Hitler; Tony Blair supported the invasion of Iraq even after his envoy informed him that the plan had “no leadership, no strategy, no coördination,” among other defects. When a leader succumbs to hubris syndrome, the authors wrote, his experience at the top has distorted his personality and decision-making.
“The Greeks warned us about it,” Owen told me recently, when I called him at home, in Britain. “When you see it, you’ve got to be very conscious that you may be watching somebody who is intoxicated with power.” After training as a doctor, Owen spent thirty-two years in politics, heading the Foreign Office from 1977 to 1979, and he developed a fascination with the ways in which C.E.O.s, dictators, and parliamentarians who are otherwise successful in their professions can be warped by the pressures and self-glorification presented by power. “It takes one to know one,” he said, dryly. “For a lot of us who are in leadership roles, the problem with the word ‘narcissism’ is that it has a very Freudian linkage and, if you use it, people will shy away from it.”
Owen was only partly interested in establishing a formal diagnosis. (Hubris syndrome does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.) More fundamentally, he wanted to call out a kind of public cognitive bias, in which voters and shareholders are often slow to acknowledge signs of irrational behavior in their chosen leaders because that acknowledgment reflects poorly on the decision to put them there. “You get rumors or people are telling you that things aren’t going all that marvellously, and either you’ve made a wrong choice or something has happened to him,” Owen told me. He helped establish a charity, the Daedalus Trust, which raises public awareness of hubris syndrome in public life, and he encourages institutions—banks, schools, political entities—to assess leaders’ mental health on a fixed schedule. “Then it’s easier to spot an incipient intoxication of power,” he said.
President Donald Trump, in the months since he entered the White House, has become a kind of international case study of mental health’s role in politics. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2017 at 5:55 pm

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