Power Really DOES Go to the Head

Expert says that egos of Thatcher and Blair were reflected in their self-obsessed language

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Between the two of them, they have divided political opinion the world over.

But scientists say that British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and the late Lady Thatcher also had something else in common – the use of egotistical language during their respective periods in office. 

Dubbed Hubris syndrome, it has been suggested that a number of Prime Ministers may have developed the personality disorder – known as Hubris syndrome – while in power.

Researchers at St George’s, University of London have discovered that this personality change was reflected in both Blair’s and Thatcher’s use of language.

Hubris, say the researchers, is commonly associated with a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities. 

It is characterised by a pattern of exuberant self-confidence, recklessness and contempt for others, and is most particularly recognised in subjects holding positions of significant power.

Fourteen clinical symptoms of Hubris syndrome have been described. People who show at least three of these could be diagnosed with the disorder.

Researchers at St George’s, University of London, searched for evidence of some of these clinical features in the language used by three British Prime Ministers – Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and John Major – by examining transcribed samples of spoken language taken from Prime Minister’s Questions.

They thought that frequent use of certain words or phrases, such as ‘sure’, ‘certain’ and ‘confident’, the first person pronouns ‘I’ or ‘me’, references to God or history, might show up during ‘hubristic’ periods.

They found that ‘I’ and ‘me’ and the word ‘sure’ were among the strongest positive correlations over time in Tony Blair’s speech. 

Blair’s use of the word ‘important’ also increased with time. Words and phrases that became more frequent with time in the speeches of Lady Thatcher and Tony Blair also included the phrase ‘we shall’, while phrases that included the word ‘duties’ diminished. 

The authors also found that language became more complex and less predictable during hubristic periods.

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