AUG 28, 2014 12:00 AM PDT

Computational Personality

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheva, Israel, have developed a new program that automates classification of personality traits of prominent individuals -- both friend and foe -- according to a paper soon to be published in the American Intelligence Journal.

"This new field, termed ‘Computational Personality,' gives us the ability to better understand the minds of military and political leaders, which is an important aspect of strategic intelligence," explained BGU Prof. Yair Neuman of the Homeland Security Institute. "Psychologists have been building personality profiles manually for years; however, there are serious methodological difficulties associated with this practice."

The new computer-supported methodology for personality profiling uses what Neuman called "vector semantics." This involves constructing a number of vectors representing personality dimensions and disorders and measuring the similarity with texts written by the human subject. BGU researchers Prof. Golan Shahar of the department of psychology and programmer Yochai Cohen also participated in the research.

The team used the new program to evaluate President Obama's State of the Union addresses from 2009 and his most recent in 2014. According to Neuman, "Both State of the Union speeches are ‘assertive' and 'organized' as expected from a political leader." He explained, "However, the main difference in the 2014 speech is the ‘loner' personality trait that appears. This dimension reveals a type of withdrawal from painful social interaction. In addition, the 2014 speech exhibits higher levels of ‘anger' and ‘fear.'"

Evaluating the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, Neuman said, "If we characterize Mashal as someone with a psychopathic personality, then we would expect him to feel omnipotent, fearless, to perceive others (particularly Israel) as weak and vulnerable, and that his relationships revolve around games of ‘predator-prey.''' "According to the computational personality results, a man like that won't be significantly affected by injury to innocent citizens or the destruction of infrastructure, because he lacks the ability to empathize. For his adversaries, any attempt to simulate empathy, or to try and appeal to his emotions is a strategy doomed to fail. These insights are highly important in understanding the personality and planning a campaign against it," said Neuman.

According to Neuman, "The CIA personality profile of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was actually the Middle Eastern version of showing off, not irrational behavior as the Bush administration inaccurately thought. So long as the leader is not defeated or publicly humiliated, even if it results in a catastrophic price to his fighters and citizens, it will be perceived as a victory. This conclusion offers a clear lesson for the current struggle against Hamas, as well."

While the methodology can be applied to any leader with available texts and speeches, the actual paper was a case study on former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's speech to the United Nations in 2012. The takeaway from that analysis was simply that Morsi is an "obsessive" personality who was out of touch with the Egyptian people and did not see the big picture.

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) has the mission of sustaining David Ben-Gurion's vision, creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University's expertise locally and around the globe. With about 20,000 students on campuses in Beersheva, Sede Boqer and Eilat in Israel's southern desert, BGU is "a university with a conscience, where the highest academic standards are integrated with community involvement, committed to sustainable development of the Negev," according to its website. For more information, visit www.aabgu.org.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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