Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

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The Personality Profile

Aubrey Immelman
Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

Paper presented at the Twenty-Fifth Annual Scientific Meeting
of the International Society of Political Psychology

Berlin, Germany

July 1619, 2002


This paper presents the results of an indirect assessment of the personality of Osama bin Laden, founder and leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network allegedly responsible for the September 11, 2001 terror attack on the United States, from the conceptual perspective of Theodore Millon.

Information concerning bin Laden was collected from biographies and media reports, and synthesized into a personality profile using the second edition of the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM–IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Bin Laden’s primary personality patterns were found to be Ambitious/exploitative and Dauntless/dissenting, with a secondary Distrusting/suspicious orientation, and subsidiary Dominant/controlling and Conscientious/dutiful features.

Ambitious individuals are bold, competitive, and self-assured; they easily assume leadership roles, expect others to recognize their special qualities, and often act as though entitled. Dauntless individuals are bold, courageous, and tough; minimally constrained by the norms of society; routinely engage in high-risk activities; not overly concerned about the welfare of others; skilled in the art of social influence; and adept at surviving on the strength of their talents, ingenuity, and wits.

Bin Laden’s blend of Ambitious and Dauntless personality patterns suggests the presence of Millon’s “unprincipled narcissist” syndrome. This composite character complex combines the narcissist’s arrogant sense of self-worth, exploitative indifference to the welfare of others, and grandiose expectation of special recognition with the antisocial personality’s self-aggrandizement, deficient social conscience, and disregard for the rights of others.

A major implication of the study is that bin Laden does not fit the profile of the highly conscientious, closed-minded religious fundamentalist, nor that of the religious martyr who combines these qualities with devout, self-sacrificing features; rather, it suggests that bin Laden is adept at exploiting Islamic fundamentalism in the service of his own ambition and personal dreams of glory.

Full research report available upon request

Page maintained by Aubrey Immelman

Last updated October 10, 2002