Warmongers suck at war

Unsatisfied by three years of irrefutable headlines, scientists recently set out to determine just how good certain folks are at waging war. Not surprisingly, arrogant, macho buffoons love to wage war but are really bad at doing so.

Research by Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut blames the condition on "positive illusions."

"(The study) supplies critically needed experimental support for the idea that positive attitude - which is generally a [beneficial] feature of human behavior - may lead to overconfidence and [damaging] behaviour in the case of war," Turchin says.

In his 2003 paper "Do Positive Illusions Promote War?" (PDF) Dominic Johnson, then at Harvard University, found that such illusions often cause people to rush into war.

"Perhaps it is our overconfidence that keeps us constantly at war," Johnson wrote in closing.

It's believed that in the past "positive illusions" were an aid in our survival, allowing earlier people to rise above adversity. In today's climate, however, such overconfidence can be deadly.

A team at Princeton, led by Johnson asked 200 volunteers to take part in a war game. Each person was to be the leader of a country in conflict with a neighboring country over recently discovered diamond mines. Before battle, each participant was asked to predict how they would fare compared to the 199 other "warlords."

Those who were more sure of their success were more likely to carry out unprovoked attacks. Additionally, they also tended to finish worse off than their more humble opponents.

"Those who expected to do best tended to do worst," the researchers say. "This suggests that positive illusions were not only misguided but actually may have been detrimental to performance in this scenario."

While men were found to be more aggressive than women, there was no correlation with testosterone levels within each gender. Bloodthirsty killers also tend to be more narcissistic, too, scoring 13 out of 15 on a psych test. Pacifists averaged a score of 11.

"So it's not maleness per se but narcissism that makes some people overly optimistic and aggressive," says Bertram Malle at the University of Oregon.

"Perhaps most disconcerting is that today's leaders are above-average in narcissism," added Malle, referring to Arnold M. Ludwig's "King of the Mountain: The nature of political leadership," which ranks 377 world leaders in six categories.

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