Containing North Korea: The Psychological Profile of Kim Jong Il

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Asian Studies | Defense and Security Studies | International Relations | Leadership Studies | Other Political Science | Other Psychology | Peace and Conflict Studies | Personality and Social Contexts


This report presents the results of a remote psychological assessment, conducted 2003–2004, of the personality of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader at the time of the study, from the conceptual perspective of personologist Theodore Millon.

Psychodiagnostically relevant data regarding Kim was extracted from open-source intelligence and synthesized into a personality profile using the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM–IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed in accordance with interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Kim’s primary personality patterns were found to be Ambitious/self-serving (narcissistic) and Outgoing/gregarious (histrionic), with a secondary Dauntless/dissenting (antisocial) pattern. In addition, the profile contained subsidiary but relatively unremarkable Dominant/asserting (sadistic), Contentious/resolute (passive‑aggressive, or negativistic), and Erratic/unstable (borderline) features.

The amalgam of Ambitious (narcissistic) and Outgoing (histrionic) patterns in Kim’s profile suggested the presence of a syndrome that Millon has labeled the "amorous narcissist" (relabeled hedonistic narcissist in the present context of political leadership studies).

This political personality type is narcissistic and histrionic, with antisocial tendencies, but not substantially paranoid or sadistic. Although not as dangerous in terms of threat assessment as the so-called "malignant narcissist," the hedonistic subtype offers its own distinctive set of challenges in the international arena.

Hedonistically narcissistic leaders are most notable for their indifferent conscience, their fraudulence, and their skill in the art of deception. Unlike malignant narcissists, they are conflict averse, preferring guile, craft, and cunning rather than force or confrontation in extracting or extorting from others what they consider their due.

The major policy implications of the study with reference to psychological operations to contain North Korean military adventurism and aggression were the following: First, it suggested that no claim, concession, or threat by Kim Jong Il could be taken at face value; he was the consummate con artist. Second, compared with malignantly narcissistic personality types such as Saddam Hussein, Kim was relatively conflict averse and unlikely to employ military force without provocation. Third, the profile suggested that Kim, like the more benignly narcissistic Muammar al-Qaddafi, was relatively open to influence by carefully crafted diplomatic means subjectively perceived as serving his self-interest and regime survival.


Adam Beatty assisted with data collection.

The research was conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics (USPP), a collaborative faculty–student research program in the psychology of politics at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville and St. Joseph, Minnesota, directed by Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, who specializes in the psychological assessment of presidential candidates and world leaders.

More information and updates: http://personality-politics.org/the-personality-profile-of-north-koreas-kim-jong-il

The full text of the paper will be available for download in September 2017.

Containing Kim Jong Il.pptx (194 kB)
North Korea threat assessment and strategic intervention

Kim Jong Il -- Hedonistic Narcissist.pptx (125 kB)
Kim Jong-il personality profile