Stanford's Zimbardo asks: Is President Trump mentally ill? | News | Palo Alto Online |


Stanford's Zimbardo asks: Is President Trump mentally ill?

Psychologist says evaluation is needed

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President Donald Trump has shown signs of a mental health disorder and he should be evaluated and diagnosed by mental health professionals, according to Stanford University psychology Professor Emeritus Philip Zimbardo.

Zimbardo co-authored a chapter in the book, "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," published last October. The book included chapters from 27 mental health clinicians assessing, from a distance, the behavior and public statements of the president.

Zimbardo's chapter was on what is called "present hedonism."

"Present hedonism is characterized as living in the moment with no interest in the past or the future," Zimbardo said in an email interview last week. "All decisions are made on the spur of the moment without ever considering their future consequences and without considering whether they were effective in the past."

The president, Zimbardo added, has exhibited the most extreme signs of present hedonism he's ever seen.

Zimbardo said that his concerns about Trump's mental health have increased since "Dangerous Case" was published.

"He is as impaired as I thought he would be, and more," Zimbardo told the Weekly. "I did not expect the sharp cognitive decline as well as neurological symptoms, primitive grasping of a water cup and slurred speech, as we have seen, in addition to psychological symptoms."

Zimbardo also spoke to the president's tendency to exaggerate or apparently lie.

"He shows a need to fabricate his reality, not just for his base but also for himself and cannot refrain from entering into an attack mode," Zimbardo said. "He cannot help himself because this is the structure of his pathology."

Zimbardo added: "An evaluation will help confirm and assess how deeply his impairment goes. It would allow us to formulate a treatment plan, as well as to have an understanding of what he is and is not capable of."

Part of what Zimbardo calls the president's pathology is exhibited in his constant use of Twitter to express his opinions and, most often, his displeasure.

"In the last 380 days since in his inauguration, Trump has made 4,776 tweets, which averages out to 12.6 tweets every day and night," Zimbardo said. "Some are filled with garbled inconsistencies, attacks on his perceived enemies, and glorification of his imagined achievements."

The question of Trump's mental health has been openly discussed since the book "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff, about the Trump presidency, was published last month. The book purports that many in the White House have questions about the mental stability of the president. Wolff's reporting methods have themselves become a topic of concern among journalists, however, because of his lack of direct sourcing.

The Atlantic magazine's website reported in December that about a dozen Democratic lawmakers invited the editor of "Dangerous Case," Yale University psychiatry Professor Bandy Lee, in for closed-door talks. Those meetings are continuing, Lee has confirmed.

"Dangerous Case" was written conscious of the American Psychiatric Association's Goldwater Rule, established in 1973, which stipulates that therapists should not comment on the mental health of someone they have not personally evaluated.

The Goldwater Rule is a pillar of ethics in the world of psychiatrists. But it amounts to what Lee called a "silencing mechanism" preventing therapists who wish to from speaking out. (Lee herself resigned from the American Psychiatric Association a decade ago over what she called growing ties between the group and the pharmaceutical industry.)

"We are trying to abide by the Goldwater Rule ... not to diagnose but to educate the public in general," Lee said in a recent email. "We are merely stating that Mr. Trump is dangerous and needs an evaluation, which in turn will yield diagnoses, if any."

The American Psychological Association, which Zimbardo belongs to, has something similar to the American Psychiatric Association's Goldwater Rule. In its "Bases of Assessment," Standard 9.01 states that "one should not assess individuals without direct contact."

When informed that his statements to a reporter could be construed as a violation of the American Psychological Association's "Bases of Assessments," Zimbardo replied in a short email: "I don't care."

"A psychiatrist who disregards the basic procedures of diagnosis and treatment deserves reprimand," Lee wrote in the book's prologue. "However, the public trust is also violated if the profession fails in its duty to alert the public when a person who holds the power of life and death over all of us shows signs of clear, dangerous mental impairment."

Last March 16 and again on Oct. 6, the American Psychiatric Association issued reaffirmations of the Goldwater Rule to its members. The Oct. 6 reiteration occurred when "Dangerous Case" was published and specifically referred to a concept among clinicians as "duty to warn," when a therapist believes it is necessary to break the bonds of confidentiality when a patient exhibits signs of being a danger to himself, herself or to others.

The idea for the book was born out of a meeting on April 20 at the Yale School of Medicine organized by Lee and titled "Does professional responsibility include a duty to warn?" Lee convened respected, longtime colleagues in the field to discuss whether a situation involving a public figure could arise that would entail an ethical duty to speak out.

This is not the first public attempt of mental health professionals to cast their diagnostic eyes on Trump from a distance. The cover story in the June 2016 issue of Atlantic magazine, written by Dan B. Adams, a Northwestern University psychology professor, also raised questions about then-candidate Trump's mental health.

Editor's note: The original version of this article has been edited to correct information about the April meeting at Yale and also Lee's characterization of the Goldwater Rule. Palo Alto Online regrets the errors.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Don Kazak, a former Palo Alto Weekly senior staff writer, can be reached at

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54 people like this
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:17 am

[Post removed.]

73 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:30 am

Really shocked to see this in PAO and hope the editors remove it.

17 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:37 am

"The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump"

Good (if scary) book.

50 people like this
Posted by Former Old Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:40 am

Rather than remove the story, I suggest that the reporter expand it to cover what is really newsworthy here: the first time in history that psychiatric science is being used in an effort to overthrow a constitutionally elected President of the United States.

"Psychiatry possesses an inherent capacity for abuse that is greater than in other areas of medicine.[26] The diagnosis of mental disease can give the state license to detain persons against their will and insist upon therapy both in the interest of the detainee and in the broader interests of society.[26] In addition, receiving a psychiatric diagnosis can in itself be regarded as oppressive.[27] In a monolithic state, psychiatry can be used to bypass standard legal procedures for establishing guilt or innocence and allow political incarceration without the ordinary odium attaching to such political trials.[26]

In the period from the 1960-s to 1986, the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes was reported to have been systematic in the Soviet Union and episodic in other Eastern European countries such as Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.[28] The practice of incarceration of political dissidents in mental hospitals in Eastern Europe and the former USSR damaged the credibility of psychiatric practice in these states and entailed strong condemnation from the international community.[29] Psychiatrists have been involved in human rights abuses in states across the world when the definitions of mental disease were expanded to include political disobedience.[30] As scholars have long argued, governmental and medical institutions have at times classified threats to authority during periods of political disturbance and instability as a form of mental disease.[31] In many countries political prisoners are still sometimes confined and abused in mental institutions.[32]

Web Link

45 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:43 am

Another bleeding heart liberal who knows everything??!!

22 people like this
Posted by MAGA
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:52 am

More concerned about his mob ties and Putin's leverage over Trump, than Trump's narcissism, greed and barely functional literacy. And his choices for administrators, cabinet members, etc.. (guilty pleas, indictments, etc..)

But that's me.


19 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Is the crazy guy that he plays on TV and Twitter his real personality or just an act?

11 people like this
Posted by allen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Trump is obviously unfit but he was elected and has the support of a lot of people. Removing him from office has huge risks as a lot of his supporters happen to have guns and some may be even more mentally ill than Trump. Of course, he has nuclear weapons so there is risk either way.

29 people like this
Posted by Barbee
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 12:33 pm

When you consider the WJ alternative, be very glad we have President Trump at the helm. It could have been a total disaster. . .

43 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 15, 2018 at 12:34 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

It's not clear at all that he was actually elected. He lost the popular vote and is doing anything to destroy the special counselor's investigation into the involvement of Russia in the elections process. he won't release his tax returns, because they would announce to the public his business ventures are financed by Russian banks, and in Russia we know quite well who controls them and we can guess what they would want in return.

Yes, he is completely unfit for the job and probably mentally ill, but we should be concerned even more about his ties to the Russian oligarchy.

43 people like this
Posted by Scotty
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 15, 2018 at 1:36 pm

sorry I couldn't focus on all the negative comments here... I'm too busy hiring people and counting my money...

27 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 1:44 pm

Scotty, thank you -- I like your style!

33 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 1:48 pm

"... psychiatric science is being used in an effort to overthrow a constitutionally elected President of the United States."

Ironic, considering the referenced president had tried to use hokum (birtherism) to overthrow a constitutionally elected President of the United States.

37 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 15, 2018 at 2:39 pm

He is clearly the most unfit member of the species ever to occupy the highest political office in the country.
Trump is a sexist, homphobic, racist, narcissist, a compulsive liar, and a most vile and disrespectful person.

He has taken a wrecking ball to the most valuable institutions of our country. He should be removed at least from office, if not more. He is a stain on the presidency, the country and the world. The damage he is doing to the environment will result in incalculable, irreparable, unnecessary harm.

Trump is a disgrace.

And remember just because someone was elected, doesn't mean they were a good choice. Like Trump, Hitler also was elected. And like Trump, he too was elected without a majority.

34 people like this
Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 15, 2018 at 2:45 pm

If any of you out there took Psychology one with Professor Zimbardo, I am certain most would deem him to be not quite 100 percent mentally okay. He had some far out ideas. But, he was a good professor who attracted hundreds of students to his Psychology one classes throughout his years of teaching. And, he did the infamous Prison experiment, which in and of itself shows a little borderline personality. But, I agree, another over the top liberal who simply just cannot accept the election results. The Democrats should be concentrating on getting an attractive, well spoken candidate for the next election who can connect with people in order to defeat Trump if they really want to get rid of him. Furthermore, they need to basically accept, he is the President for the next three years as there will be no impeachment process. There is nothing to indict him for that is supported by facts.

45 people like this
Posted by Edgarpoet
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2018 at 2:50 pm

The vast personal insults waged at our President are such a disrespectful
political agenda it is laughable! The same bleeding heart liberals that
make up these fake assumptions had NOTHING to say when Obama perpetrated
Bengasi, or when Hillary Clinton sold uranium to the Russians , or any other controversial doings of the former administration! Because Trump is NOT
a corrupt politician, he is a prime target for this type of non-sense.
Palo Alto Online; you should have higher standards than to publish this type of FAKE NEWS!

27 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 15, 2018 at 3:49 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

"Trump is not a corrupt politician" is the most ludicrous Fox generated slogan I've heard since he lost the elections by 3 million votes.

This character is running the White House like a crime family.

42 people like this
Posted by YP
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 3:56 pm

YP is a registered user.

Palo Alto online hits a new low , can’t add much other than that.

14 people like this
Posted by The Trolls Are Out Today
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2018 at 4:47 pm

YP -- "Palo Alto online hits a new low , can’t add much other than that."

In terms of alt-right commenters making supreme fools of themselves? No debate there...

37 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm

I love Donald Trump.
Bravo to Peter Thiel for getting away from these communist bullies.
Thanks for continuing to destroy your own integrity, PAOnline, this randon psychologist hotshot and the rest of the Left don't understand that this constant antagonism helps Trump.
The economy is thriving, we have a President who actually respects us instead of recklessly growing government, it is so refreshing and I am feeling sanguine. If some insulated academic wants to diagnose it as some vague disorder from your special little manual, go ahead, I'll be busy doing WORK. Psychology is such a soft science and often a waste of time.

17 people like this
Posted by The Trolls Are Out Today
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2018 at 4:57 pm

@Resident -- So, comrade, how many rubles do you get for posting here?

21 people like this
Posted by YP
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 5:43 pm

YP is a registered user.

I really find it entertaining to see Russia comments. On on on one hand people think trump is inept and possibly insane but on the other hand smart enough to collude with Russians to “steal” an election???Here we are over year after the elections and the dems still can’t believe they lost.
Comments about losing popular vote are inane. That’s how our system works, if popular vote decided the election then candides would have campaigned differently AND voters would have behaved differently,think voters in clearly blue or red states that didn’t bother to vote because electoral college was a done deal.
Dems stop whining and start thinking about policies to win elections.

12 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 15, 2018 at 5:50 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

@Resident, tovarish, Google Translate is good, but not that good. You need to try harder.

18 people like this
Posted by Hinrich
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2018 at 6:29 pm

Hinrich is a registered user.

Common decency is a shared benefit in a civilized society - it protects and elevates everyone and it rises above the pettiness of the most common among us. Those who have so bitterly lost should consider that the same might visit theirs when they win.

This news story, or whatever it is supposed to be, insults all of us - PAO’s editors should know better.

12 people like this
Posted by Gary MV
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2018 at 7:10 pm

Gary MV is a registered user.

Vice President Michael Pence will be talking to Jesus directly about whether to get the group needed to suspend Trump's occupancy of the Presidency because of Trump's mental problems. Pence will let us know how that conversation goes.

6 people like this
Posted by Greenmeadow Resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 15, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Greenmeadow Resident is a registered user.

@former old palo altan -- Wikipedia? Really? And an article on political abuse by psychiatry in the Soviet Union? Please consider sources that actually tie in to Psychiatry in the U.S. and current concerns about Trump's cognitive status.

31 people like this
Posted by Martha Dogood
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2018 at 7:17 pm

Martha Dogood is a registered user.

Thank goodness the psychiatrists and psychologists aren't running government. Gee, talk about mental illness and promotion of narcissism!

President Trump is doing great! Silicon Valley is one shade shy of being one huge mental illness case.

Peter Thiel was smart to leave, this place is getting more intolerant and becoming Mao like worshippers more and more everyday. It seems PAO is leading the Mao parade today. I wonder how much time the editors spend lunching with the new PA "citizens" who speak Mandarin and have loyalties elsewhere, certainly not with America's, or our children's, long term interests in mind.

Wake up America! The "Russia story" is one of the biggest hoaxes ever created to divert attention away from China and its leftist allies in America. China is doing to our USA Today exactly what Kissinger did with "triangulation."

25 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 15, 2018 at 7:56 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

Man, is there a group of more oblivious, self pitying, than Trump supporters? Their incompetent leader is actively undermining law enforcement, encouraging domestic abusers, kowtowing to murderous dictators and neo-Nazis, and somehow the opinion of a professor has them crying about intolerance. Boo hoo.

85 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2018 at 8:20 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

The sort of nonsense insinuated by Zimbardo borders upon lunacy. Obviously, President Trump is not "mentally ill." Any person who believes that he can make such a claim from afar should seriously rethink his profession. This is little more than partisan wishful thinking in a book for which its sad little authors hope to hurt rather than help.

Ironically, Zimbardo pretends that this is about "present hedonism." I wonder if this some form of sociopolitical hedonism? Otherwise, it sounds like the fringe (or quack) "science" of which early 20th Century eugenics reinforced the prejudices of those who eagerly wanted to believe it.

I wonder whether or not the Palo Alto Weekly offer space for a published rebuttal by a Trump supporter (or, at least, a psychologist who isn't so overtly biased). I suppose that a "second opinion" might be too much to ask for in the current single-ideology bubble here in this Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area bastion of hyper-liberalism or Orwellian cultural "newspeak."

53 people like this
Posted by Concerned Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2018 at 7:16 am

Concerned Observer is a registered user.

Wow !!! "Trump Derangement Syndrome" is alive and well. You liberals still can't get over the fact that Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump is our president. You still can't get over the fact that the only Russian collusion involved Hillary and the Clinton Foundation's receipt of millions of dollars of donations from the Russians in return for a sweet deal on the purchase of U.S. uranium. It's laughable, and when Trump is reelected in 2020.......

41 people like this
Posted by MAGA
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 16, 2018 at 11:48 am

MAGA is a registered user.

Dems are sore losers. I am so tired of watching the media bash Trump. He is being productive, not simply keeping the peace like others did. There is no way I was going to vote for HRC, the biggest hoax who has fooled Democrats and immigrants. She only supports illegal immigration so she eventually gets their votes and appears empathetic. She keeps welfare so so she keeps the votes. There is so much welfare fraud! She's a criminal married to a cheater but the liberal elites overlook that, as they overlook all the Clinton faults but criticize Trump for the same things. And now, CNN loves posting the photo of the Florida school shooter wearing a MAGA hat. As if.

The liberal elites forced me to change my party affiliation from conservative Democrat to Republican even though I am a pro-choice, anti-gun, secular woman. I don't want to be affiliated with a party that promotes socialism. We live in Palo Alto due to hard work because America gave my grandparents a chance and we appreciate that. It's amazing that Americans expect handouts when there are "Help Wanted" signs everywhere. Thank you to you our silent majority.

32 people like this
Posted by Concerned Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Concerned Observer is a registered user.

And then there was Obama....clearly a narcissist by definition.

4 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 16, 2018 at 4:31 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 16, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

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