Knowing that I study human motivation, this week a friend of mine asked me to explain the motivations of Eliot Spitzer. To those of you who have avoided TV, and have not read Donna Andersen’s blog, Eliot Spitzer is Governor of the State of New York, but he is set to leave office on Monday. He was forced to resign after he was caught hiring prostitutes from a firm likely linked to organized crime. CNN reported that he may have spent $80,000 on prostitutes, but this is not a large sum if you consider that one encounter costs about $5,000. Now back to my friend, he stated, “I don’t get Spitzer, his wife is an attractive woman.”
No matter how you cut it, Spitzer’s wife is a victim of love fraud. The man who she was married to, and who fathered her 3 children, cheated illegally and ruined their lives. To use the language of psychology “Spitzer engaged in deceptive sexual practices.” Let us also make it clear that Spitzer’s behavior has nothing to do with his wife’s attractiveness or any of her qualities. Spitzer’s behavior reflects only upon himself.
What does psychology have to say about deceptive sexual strategies, and why is it that powerful men, including politicians, seem bent on engaging in sexual deception? Is there a link between sexual deception and interest in politics? I am sure you also want to know if the powerful men who do this are “psychopaths” or “sociopaths.” I will answer all of those questions for you.
In 1990 researchers Jeffry A. Simpson and Steven W. Gangestad developed and validated a concept they called sociosexual orientation. These researchers and subsequently others identified two types of sociosexual orientation in humans all over the world. Humans from all cultures can be divided into those with unrestricted and those with restricted sociosexual orientation. A person with restricted sociosexual orientation requires a relationship and usually “love” before engaging in sex. A person with an unrestricted orientation does not require a relationship with a sex partner and typically has sex with strangers, multiple partners and has one night stands. We can therefore say that Eliot Spitzer has an unrestricted sociosexual orientation, given that he had a pattern of visiting prostitutes.
The development of the concept of sociosexual orientation, along with rating scales to measure this orientation, has allowed for deeper investigations into how this orientation relates to personality and personality disorders. It should come as no surprise that multiple studies have shown that unrestricted sociosexuality is associated with a tendency to be a liar. Thus, the lying behavior of unrestricted types is not confined to their sex lives. An unrestricted sociosexual orientation also correlates with a lack of agreeableness and grandiosity especially in men.
If you have read this blog on a regular basis, you know that an inability to love is related to excessive power motivation. Likewise the lack of agreeableness and low affection motivation found in people with unrestricted sociosexuality is associated with increased power motivation, especially in men. So men who crave power also crave many casual sex partners.
In terms of conscience, unrestricted sociosexuality is associated with a lack of conscientiousness and lack of emotional investment in relationships.
Those of you who read Are they just evil people know that the personality traits associated with psychopathy/sociopathy are high extraversion, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness, these are identical to those associated with unrestricted sociosexuality. One article gave the following explanation, “Findings indicated that both unrestricted women and men described themselves as attractive and not ethically consistent. Additionally, unrestricted women described themselves as not being moralistic and as varying their roles, depending on the situation. Unrestricted men described themselves as irresponsible, unproductive, not warm, not anxious, and assertive. Relationships were demonstrated between unrestricted sociosexuality for men and narcissism and psychopathy.”
In yesterday’s blog Donna Andersen quoted Dr. Drew Pinsky, “Dina, you’re describing sexual addiction, sexual compulsion there. Those guys do love people to the best that they’re able.” Dr. Drew was a few years ahead of me at USC Medical School, but I have to advise him to read the literature on sociosexual orientation. The literature indicates that this approach to sex is associated with sociopathy/psychopathy, or at least traits of these, and an inability to love. As Donna pointed out Spitzer seems to manifest other traits of sociopathy in addition to his sexual proclivities.
As one last interesting tidbit, I’d like to tell you about one recent study of unrestricted sociosexual orientation in men who were supposedly in committed relationships. Usually men in committed relationships experience a drop in testosterone. It turns out that this is only true for men who have a restricted sociosexual orientation and who are truly monogamous. Married or otherwise paired men who have an unrestricted sociosexual orientation have higher testosterone levels. These findings may account for the relationship between indiscriminate sex and power motivation, in that high testosterone also predicts power motivation in men.
The more I read the literature, the more I come to understand that the so-called “successful psychopaths/sociopaths” are those who have all the elements of psychopathy but who also have achievement motivation. Because these individuals are motivated to achieve in socially acceptable ways, they do not adopt full antisocial lifestyles in order to get the power they crave. Eliot Spitzer certainly has plenty of achievement motivation.
I still have not answered the question as to whether Elliot Spitzer is a sociopath/psychopath. To quote Donna Andersen, “If someone has come into your life who has most of the symptoms of a psychopath, don’t quibble about the one or two that may not be very pronounced. When most of the traits are present, run, don’t walk, for the nearest exit!” So I don’t know whether or not a forensic expert would diagnose Spitzer, but does it really matter? The damage he has done to those he purports to love speaks for itself.
What can we learn here? The stories we read about in the news remind us to value the best in people. While power motivation may be sexy and sexually motivated men may make good sex partners, they do not make good husbands or long term partners. They also make lousy leaders. We are better off if we surround ourselves with people who have a clear track record of honesty, empathy and compassion. Given that we cannot often determine the true character of a politician, I think the research indicates we are wise distrust someone known to have an unrestricted sociosexual orientation.