Professor of Political Science
While many political psychologists study mass public opinion and voting behavior, Rose McDermott’s research involves those at the top — American presidents and world leaders. Her work focuses on the impact of physical and psychological impairments on a leader’s foreign policy decisions and international relations. She also designs experiments to test how one’s endogenous propensity toward aggression factors into political decision-making and how men and women differ on this front.
Given the age and sex differences on the current U.S. presidential tickets and the candidates’ personal health histories, McDermott says this is a “very interesting” election season and has “profound concerns” about the country’s potential leadership. She cited several examples of how she believes age and health have already affected the candidates’ decisions and risk taking on the campaign trail.
McDermott’s most recent book, Presidential Leadership, Illness and Decision Making (2007, Cambridge University Press), uses case studies to examine the ways in which aging, mental illness, physical disability, and drug addiction influenced the foreign policy decisions of four American presidents — Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Richard M. Nixon — and thus altered the course of history.
“Given the extremely demanding nature of the presidency, the health of candidates should be carefully considered in making a vote choice,” McDermott said. “History demonstrates that impaired leadership can exert a decisive impact on critical outcomes in foreign policy.”
McDermott received a Ph.D. in political science and an M.A. in psychology from Stanford University. She has held fellowships at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and the Women and Public Policy Program, both at Harvard University. In addition to authoring four books, her extensive list of publications includes articles and book chapters on experimentation, the impact of emotion on decision-making, social identity, and evolutionary and neuroscientific models of political science.
While completing a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University this year, McDermott is working on a series of projects investigating the biological and genetic bases of aggression, and a book project on global public health and the threat of pandemic disease.
McDermott will begin teaching at Brown next fall.