Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Does Eliot Spitzer have a Normal Personality?

Steven Reiss

A New Way of Thinking About the Spitzer Scandal

The Normal Personality I am a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Ohio State University in Columbus who has been studying human motivation for a decade.

The media has been promoting a mostly inaccurate view of why someone would do what Gov. Spitzer did. Mr. Spitzer is not self-destructive. Actually, he has a personality opposite to someone who is self- destructive. Self-destruction is motivated by guilt, but people who practice infidelity often have no guilt because they think they are not doing anything wrong.

It is misleading to say that Mr. Spitzer was motivated by hubris. He may been self-confident and this might have become overconfidence after years of success, but I doubt he started with overconfidence or has a general tendency to think he can get away with things. If he did, he would have been caught a long time ago.

To understand him, think: here is guy thinking about sex much more often than he lets on.

Infidelity is usually motivated by a strong sex drive plus expedience and disloyalty. Generally, people with strong motives seek multiple gratification objects. A person with a strong appetite likes to eat many foods; a very curious person likes to learn about many topics; a very physically active person likes to play many sports; a person who is strongly motivated by family tends to have many children; a materialistic person owns many expensive things. Similarly, a high sex drive motivates people to seek out multiple partners. The primary motive in Spitzer’s case was sex, and he might well have a significantly stronger sex drive than the average person.

To understand him, think: here is guy thinking about sex much more often than he lets on.

People vary enormously in how much they value honor. In confidential surveys, many people have told us they do not value honesty and loyalty. I call these people “expedient” or “opportunistic.” Most expedient people are disloyal.

A person with a strong sex drive and expedience is motivated toward infidelity. Why would he think he would not get caught? He probably had confidence he could hide it, perhaps overconfidence, especially since he had done so successfully for many years.

Expedient people usually apologize out of self-interest, not sincerity.

Some “therapists” may talk about unconscious motives, self- destruction, etc. I believe such talk has no basis in fact, certainly not in science. Sex drive plus amorality/ disloyalty and an expectation that being caught is unlikely is all that is needed to explain what happened. This “normal personality” explanation of Spitzer, as opposed to the unconscious forces/mental illness explanation, is consistent with the details of Spitzer’s behavior and, I bet, his adult life. Spitzer is trying to save himself, not destroy himself. This is not mental illness. It is normal opportunism. Spitzer isn’t thinking he is worthless and should be destroyed; instead, he may be trying to figure out who turned him in.

About The Author

Steven Reiss

Steven Reiss is is Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University, the author of The Normal Personality: A New Way of Thinking about People (2009), and creator of The Reiss Profi...

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