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The Biological Bases for Aggressiveness and Nonaggressiveness in Presidents



Leaders remain subject to the same biological determinants and pressures that affect other humans. Yet, they also differ in their ability to regulate and marshal their emotions just as they diverge in their other skills, talents, limitations, and abilities. In particular, some are better at channeling their emotions to help shape foreign policy more efficiently than others. One of the most potent and powerful emotions with which leaders have to contend, particularly under conditions of provocation, is anger. Anger can influence judgment and decision making in systematic and predictable ways. Individual heritable differences can influence the conditions under which anger leads to aggressive action. Such differences can influence not only the environments into which leaders select, but also the ways they process and interpret information; these determinations can decisively influence the outcome of significant public policies, including decisions on conflict and war. As a result, emotion regulation can play a strategic role in leadership. Examples from several recent presidencies illustrate how such individual differences play out on the world stage.

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