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Virtues, Vices, and Political Influence in the U.S. Senate


What qualities make a political leader more influential or less influential? Philosophers, political scientists, and psychologists have puzzled over this question, positing two opposing routes to political power--one driven by human virtues, such as courage and wisdom, and the other driven by vices, such as Machiavellianism and psychopathy. By coding nonverbal behaviors displayed in political speeches, we assessed the virtues and vices of 151 U.S. senators. We found that virtuous senators became more influential after they assumed leadership roles, whereas senators who displayed behaviors consistent with vices--particularly psychopathy--became no more influential or even less influential after they assumed leadership roles. Our results inform a long-standing debate about the role of morality and ethics in leadership and have important implications for electing effective government officials. Citizens would be wise to consider a candidate's virtue in casting their votes, which might increase the likelihood that elected officials will have genuine concern for their constituents and simultaneously promote cooperation and progress in government.

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