‘The Chemistry of Politics’ is an ongoing blog series by biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Chemistry.com, Dr. Helen Fisher. Her research is based off of the Chemistry.com personality test, taken by over 10 million people worldwide.


Who is Barack Obama? Who is Mitt Romney? I study temperament—all the traits that we inherit, that stem from our DNA. And from my studies at Chemistry.com, I have come to believe that men and women have developed four broad personalities that dictate our styles of thinking and behaving, each associated with the testosterone, estrogen, serotonin and dopamine systems in the brain. Each system correlates with certain behaviors, and every individual is a unique combination of these four systems. For example, the testosterone system in the brain is directly linked to analytical, exacting, data driven and competitive behavior. Both Barack and Mitt are Testosterone-driven people, whom I call Directors.

Directors also tend to excel at spatial and mathematical skills, but Romney expresses several other traits of the Director which Obama does not.  For example, those expressive of testosterone also tend to be less socially aware; perhaps this is why Romney has been known to make verbal gaffs. Testosterone is also linked with being tough-minded, suggesting why a prominent Boston business colleague called Romney “the Tin Man,” after the character in the Wizard of Oz who sought out a heart. Romney also has several facial features built by testosterone, including his strong angular jaw, high cheekbones and heavy brow ridges.

But if Romney shows more testosterone-linked traits, Obama is more expressive of traits linked with estrogen. These people, whom I call Negotiators, take a more contextual, big-picture, long-term view.  This is Obama. After Michelle and the girls have gone to bed, he pours over vast quantities of data on a broad range of issues.  Negotiators also tend to have superb verbal and people skills, more traits of Obama.  In his law school days he regarded himself as a writer, and many Americans regard him as a gifted public speaker. Last, Negotiators are empathetic.  Obama passed up lucrative job opportunities to travel door-to-door in Chicago to help the poor.

These men also differ in other biological ways. Conventionality, following the rules, respecting authority, orderliness, frugality, and religiosity: all are traits linked with the serotonin system. Romney expresses these traits in spades, traits related to the personality type I call Builders. ‘Order’ is Mitt’s middle name– stability and security are essential to him, he respects the rigid command and control hierarchy of the Mormon church, and he has been called “MittFrugal” for his notorious need to save. Indeed, he has been seen washing his shirts in his hotel sink, then ironing them himself.  Romney is what I call a Builder/Director.

Obama, however, expresses more traits linked with dopamine. These men and women, whom I call Explorers, tend to be risk-taking, energetic, curious, creative and mentally flexible.  Obama risks. Despite the counsel of all but one of his advisors, Obama raided Bin Laden’s compound.  Obama also surrounds himself with colleagues who express disparate perspectives–an example of his curiosity.  Moreover, he is reportedly creative in his handling of international affairs; he abounds with energy, and he has an animated face—all dopamine-linked traits.

So if Obama and Romney were to take the Chemistry.com personality test, I suspect both would score high on the testosterone scale. Both are Directors first, with highly analytical minds and self-contained emotions. But Romney would score far higher on the Builder scale, measuring his religiosity, respect for authority and tradition, his frugality, his need for order, and his skill with numbers. Obama on the other hand would score higher on the Negotiator scale, expressing his contextual, long-term view, his empathy, his drive to negotiate and cooperate, and his verbal skills.

So I would like to offer each of these men a piece of advice based on their biological constructions: surround yourself with people who don’t think like you. Data shows that teams do better when they are composed of people who express the widest range of personalities.  Take advantage of this gift.

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