News Release

Using tweets to decrypt the personality of Donald Trump and other powerful people

A detailed, QUT-led study examining the tweets of US President Donald Trump reveal an 'emotionally unstable innovator' using social media as a political tool

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Queensland University of Technology

QUT Associate Professor Martin Obschonka from the Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research

image: QUT Associate Professor Martin Obschonka from the Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research, has researched the personality of some of the most influential business leaders (including Donald Trump) based on language used in tweets. view more 

Credit: Photo: Anthony Weate/QUT Marketing & Communication.

Very successful entrepreneurs and CEO's are often regarded as superstars in modern society because they generate jobs, introduce groundbreaking innovations, and thus change the world.

Examples include Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Oprah Winfrey and President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Something else they have in common is that they use Twitter and two ground-breaking QUT-led studies analysed their tweets to better understand what makes them tick.

In the case of President Trump, researchers conclude he is an 'emotionally unstable innovator'.

The personalities of these sort of people of great global influence generates a great deal of debate but has previously been difficult to measure. An international research team, led by QUT's Associate Professor Martin Obschonka from the Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research, employed a revolutionary new, computerised scientific method of analysing digital footprints to decrypt the personality profiles of 106 superstar business leaders.

"Our aim was to better understand their business mindsets, how they approach work and how they have achieved their success," said Professor Obschonka, who conducted the research with Dr Christian Fisch, from Trier University in Germany, and Ryan Boyd, from the University of Texas at Austin.

"We looked at Twitter tweets and employed a new method that uses machine learning and other computer science methods to analyse characteristic language styles, contents, and patterns that together can reveal remarkably valid information on a person's personality profile."

In the first study, Using digital footprints in entrepreneurship research: A Twitter-based personality analysis of superstar entrepreneurs and managers, which was recently published by the Journal of Business Venturing Insights, the researchers compared the online personalities of the wealthiest entrepreneurs with those of the most powerful CEOs.

"We used the Forbes 400 and the Fortune 500 lists to pinpoint our targets. Then we analysed more than 215,000 words posted by these individuals on Twitter to estimate their personality profile," Professor Obschonka said.

Surprisingly the research found superstar CEOs showed a more entrepreneurial personality profile than the actual superstar entrepreneurs in that they were more conscientious, more power driven, and less insecure. The authors attribute this to the fact that there is a very close link between the CEO and the company he or she reflects.

However, the team also found the superstar entrepreneurs showed aspects of an innovator personality, in that they are higher in openness to new experiences and independence.

In their second paper, Entrepreneurial personalities in political leadership, which has just been published by the scientific journal Small Business Economics, the researchers took a closer look on probably the most prominent and powerful person in their sample, Donald Trump.


We conducted our study before Trump was elected President but now with him as former business leader in such a powerful position, his entrepreneurial personality character is of very particular interest to the wider public," Professor Obschonka said.

"Probably no other politician or businessperson in the world is currently so strongly associated with Twitter tweets like Trump. His online personality really matters in his approach to political leadership as he makes world policy via his tweets almost every day," Dr Fisch added. The researchers therefore re-analysed Trump's tweets and compared his personality profile, derived from his Tweets, with the personality profile of the superstar entrepreneurs and CEOs. The results indicate his personality is unique.

They found Trump shows stronger features of an innovator personality than the other influential business leaders - he scored higher in openness to new experience (being high in this trait means listening to new ideas and being open for unconventional solutions) and, at the same time, lower in agreeableness (being low in this trait means a strong focus on competition, social distinction, and Machiavellism).

This reflects a character prototypical for a classic 'Schumpeterian' entrepreneur, epitomising what 20th Century entrepreneurship researcher Joseph Schumpeter called 'creative destruction'.

"We can now ask what such an apparent 'creative destructor' personality means for his policy that is influenced by his personality," said Professor Obschonka.

"Schumpeterian personalities might be on the rise in political leadership in today's entrepreneurial societies dealing with and proactively responding to rapid change as well as valuing disruptive innovations."

"We also found Trump scored relatively high in neuroticism. Being high in this trait means being emotionally unstable and having trouble controlling urges," Dr Fisch added.

"So in the end, it seems that we could identify a personality pattern in Trump that makes him so distinct from the superstar entrepreneurs and CEO's in that he really seems to resemble a type of an emotionally unstable innovator," Professor Obschonka concluded.

"Being a single-minded, independent and creative rule-breaker can be good traits for entrepreneurs but they are probably more unusual in high-level politicians, particularly when coupled with high neuroticism.

"Such a personality pattern could be something like a double-edged sword: more entrepreneurial thinking and acting in high-level politicians could boost an entrepreneurial economy, but such entrepreneurial personalities could also show an unconventional political leadership style that is highly successful in the business world but maybe not so successful in the political realm that requires careful diplomacy instead of risky entrepreneurial thirst for action.

"However, our analysis should not be confused with a proper clinical analysis of the characters of these powerful individuals. This would require their active and willing participation."


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