Maintaining the Inflated Self-Image:

Leader Narcissism and Foreign Policy Decision-Making

My book project pushes the question "how do leaders matter?" forward by asking "what do leaders want?" and investigating variation in leader goals. Instead of assuming that all leaders emphasize state interests or political capital above all else, I argue that variation in what leaders want and how much they value different goals is determined largely by personality. I use grandiose narcissism to study variation in what leaders want, and how that variation in leader goals impacts foreign policy decision-making. More specifically, I argue that grandiose narcissists focus on deciding and acting in ways which shore up and promote their inflated self-views. I use mixed-methods to test my hypotheses.

Specifically, my book project opens by exploring how narcissists are selected for, and why we should expect more of them in the future. I follow up on this opening by using experiments to demonstrate a causal link between narcissism, self-image maintenance, and the pursuit of self-image focused leadership and foreign policy decision-making. The remainder of my book project explores how narcissists embrace conflict patterns to offset their reputations for softness, engage in more dramatic and fuzzy signaling during international conflicts, more often violate international norms when feelings threatened, and more often find themselves increasing Great Power tensions.