The Personality Profile of Al-Qaida Leader Osama bin Laden

The Personality Profile

of Al-Qaida Leader

Osama Bin Laden

Former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden

Aubrey Immelman
Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
June 2002


The report presents the results of an indirect assessment of the personality of Osama bin Laden.

Information concerning bin Laden was collected from open-source biographies and media reports and synthesized into a personality profile using the second edition of 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 on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Bin Laden’s primary personality patterns were found to be Ambitious/exploitative and Dauntless/dissenting, with a secondary Distrusting/suspicious orientation, and subsidiary Dominant/controlling and Conscientious/dutiful features.

Ambitious individuals are bold, competitive, and self-assured; they easily assume leadership roles, expect others to recognize their special qualities, and often act as though entitled. Dauntless individuals are bold, courageous, and tough; minimally constrained by the norms of society; routinely engage in high-risk activities; not overly concerned about the welfare of others; skilled in the art of social influence; and adept at surviving on the strength of their talents, ingenuity, and wits.

Bin Laden’s blend of Ambitious and Dauntless personality patterns suggests the presence of the “unprincipled narcissist” syndrome. This composite character complex combines the narcissist’s arrogant sense of self-worth, exploitative indifference to the welfare of others, and grandiose expectation of special recognition with the antisocial personality’s self-aggrandizement, deficient social conscience, and disregard for the rights of others.

A major implication of the study is that bin Laden does not fit the profile of the highly conscientious, closed-minded religious fundamentalist, nor that of the religious martyr who combines these qualities with devout, self-sacrificing features; rather, it suggests that bin Laden is adept at exploiting Islamic fundamentalism in the service of his own ambition and personal dreams of glory.

Full research report

The Personality Profile of al-Qaida Leader Osama bin Laden. Paper presented at the 25th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Berlin, Germany, July 16–19, 2002. Abstract and link for full-text (26 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons:

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Related interest

Documents Found in the Osama bin Laden Compound

A selection of documents found at the al-Qaeda leader’s compound in Pakistan that were declassified and released on Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (Washington Post, May 20, 2015)

More information about the documents found in the raid on bin Laden