Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Mark J. Schafer


In this project I investigate how the psychological characteristics of key political leaders, their beliefs and personality traits, affect foreign policy. I use a multi-method approach. This includes both statistical analyses involving quantitative measures of leaders' psychological characteristics and policy preferences, as well as qualitative case studies of foreign policy decision making. I investigate two primary questions. First, what relationships exist between the psychological characteristics of political leaders and their policy preferences in times of international conflict? Second, how are the views of presidents and prime ministers reconciled with those of their key advisors in the creation of a national foreign policy? I investigate these questions through an examination of sixteen foreign policy decisions that were made by eight governments in three countries, the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom. I find a number of linkages between the psychological characteristics decision makers and their policy preferences. Having personality characteristics like high levels of distrust and a high need for power made it more likely that a decision maker would support conflictual policy options. Individuals who saw the world around them as more cooperative, were more willing to take risks, and perceived themselves as having the ability to affect historical development were more likely than others to favor cooperative policy options, as were those who saw the world as basically predictable. The dominant analogies that decision makers relied on when making decisions and their images of their opponents appear to have affected their policy preferences as well. The linkage between psychological characteristics and policy preferences appears to be particularly strong for those decision makers who have expertise in foreign policy and a well-developed belief system about the nature of world politics. These same psychological characteristics and policy preferences in turn affect the proposals that decision makers choose to adopt as official state policy.