Today President Donald Trump stunned most of the world, including the United States’ closest allies, when he sided with proud Russian dictator Vladimir Putin over U.S. Intelligence agencies, which have unequivocally stated that there is no doubt that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
But it may have not stunned many Americans, who have grown accustomed to Trump’s high praise for the former KGB agent. Still, it is unclear exactly why the seemingly-unlikely bromance has been blossoming ever since Trump acted on his presidential aspirations.
Some have speculated that Putin has compromising material on Trump, an allegation that he doesn’t deny. Others believe that Trump is in debt to Putin for helping him win the election via hacking, a possibility that seems even more likely after his admission today that he wanted Trump to win.
While these could be contributing factors, there may be another variable driving Donald Trump’s strange attraction to Putin. Scientific research has shown that narcissists can be strongly drawn to one another, the idea being that the people who respect other narcissists are often narcissists themselves.
There is little doubt that both Trump and Putin meet the requirements for narcissistic personality disorder. Psychology Today and The Atlantic, among other publications, have published articles that describe Putin as highly narcissistic. The same publications, and a long list of others, say the same about Trump. These characterizations aren’t just being made by journalists—these pieces feature countless clinicians and psychologists that have gone on record saying the same thing.
In a study titled, “Narcissists of a feather flock together: Narcissism and the similarity of friends,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, psychology researchers from Humboldt University in Berlin devised an experiment to explore the ways in which narcissists may be attracted to one another. The large study gave personality questionnaires to 300 pairs of best friends, which asked them to rate both themselves and their companions on narcissism and other “Dark Triad” personality traits, such as psychopathy and Machiavellianism. As predicted, the results showed that people who keep long-term relationships with narcissists score high on narcissism themselves.
This makes sense logically, as a narcissist would be expected to be more tolerant of other narcissists, and not put off by their hubris, selfishness, and sense of self-importance. The researchers say that the findings suggest that narcissists may befriend one another in order to help each other boost their reputation, stature, and self-esteem.
Could Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s bromance be explained as a pact between power-hungry narcissists who want to take over the world while boosting each other’s egos? That would certainly be in line with much of what we know about their personalities and authoritarian-inclined ambitions.
Bobby Azarian is a neuroscientist affiliated with George Mason University and a freelance journalist. His research has been published in journals such as Cognition & Emotion and Human Brain Mapping, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, and Scientific American. Follow him @BobbyAzarian.