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The Role of Psychoanalytic Knowledge in CIA's ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA Documents During the Years 1947-1963: Use and Misuse of Psychoanalytic Techniques

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The paper reveals the use and misuse of psychoanalytic techniques in CIA documents relating to CIA's ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA operations during the years 1947-1963.
The Role of Psychoanalytic Knowledge in CIA's ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA
Documents During the Years 1947-1963: Use and Misuse of Psychoanalytic Techniques
Manuscript prepared for the conference on »Psy Sciences, Coercion and Confession in
a Time of Cold War«, Birkbeck, University of London, UK, 1–2 July 2016
Author Note
Dr. phil. Knuth Müller, Clinical Psychologist (Dipl.-Psych.), Educational Scientist
(Dipl.-Päd.), Psychotherapist, Psychoanalyst, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Member of
the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (IARPP),
visiting lecturer at Steinbeis University Berlin (Dept. of Medical Psychology), private
psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic practice in Berlin, Germany.
Contact: Dr. phil. Knuth Müller, Bornholmer Str. 10, 10439 Berlin, Germany,
Approximately 20.000 documents of CIA’s efforts to manipulate human behavior are
available to the public since 19771 and accessible via internet for more than a decade. Despite
a decades’s long opportunity a thorough evaluation of CIA’s use and abuse of
psychodynamic theory and practice is still pending. The following should therefore be
understood as a first (and therefore incomplete) look into CIA’s exploitation of
psychodynamic theory and practice for intelligence purposes.2
The OSS and its successor, the CIA, made use of psychodynamic concepts for
research in the field of mind-altering methods and substances,3 exploited psychodynamic
approaches for interrogation strategies, including the induction of »accelerated« regressive
processes which became the basis for psychological torture experiments (e.g. psychodynamic
evaluations of isolation, sensory deprivation, ETC- and drug-induced regressive mental states,
etc.), and used its findings in operational programs. Psychoanalytic insights also became first
choice for intelligence related personality assessment procedures 4the latter being a
continuation of Murray’s »Office of Strategic Services Assessment Staff« that tested and
implemented assessment procedures for future OSS agents based on their findings.5
Psychoanalysis also became the treatment of choice for its own personnel.6 According
to several authors, Chestnut Lodge in Rockland, MD, USA, held CIA-cleared psychiatrists
»for in-house employees and other ›sensitive‹ cases«7 and was officially »approved by the
1 US Senate 1977a, b.
2 The collaboration of psychoanalysts is outlined in Müller, 2016b.
3 For a more thorough overview of participating members of the psychoanalytic community, see Müller, 2012,
2016, 2017. In 1941 the first centralized US-intelligence agency »Office of the Coordinator of Information«
(COI) was founded. Due to structural changes within the COI it was renamed »Office of Strategic Services«
(OSS) in the summer of 1942. The OSS Truth Drug Committee already began its search on unwitting patients in
1943. Psychoanalyst Lawrence Kubie was a member of this committee and one of the experimenters (ibid.).
Thus, the CIA only continued what began with the OSS.
4 For a far more detailed overview of the collaboration of the psychoanalytic community with the US-military-
intelligence-complex since 1940, see Müller, 2016b.
5 OSS Assessment Staff, 1948.
6 Mori ID#: 148376, p.1.
7 Albarelli, 2009, p. 90.
CIA Security Office for use« in 1953.8 The Lodge, as it was known, was the home of famed
psychoanalysts like Harry Stack Sullivan and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.9
The collaboration between US-intelligence and Chestnut Lodge psychiatrists and
psychoanalysts began during WWII. Psychiatrists and psychoanalysts Mabel B. Cohen,
Robert A. Cohen, and Alfred H. Stanton, all security-cleared OSS-medical personnel assigned
to Henry A. Murray’s OSS Assessment Staff, worked at Chestnut Lodge. Some of their OSS-
assignments were conducted at the Lodge.10 This collaboration continued when the CIA
superseded the OSS in 1947.
In other cases, psychodynamic thinking became a helpful tool in trying to manipulate
behavior and motivation of subjects that were considered important for intelligence gathering.
For example, when CIA-affiliated Alfred Paumier commented as a lay person on the case of
Otto John, a former member of the German resistance to the Nazi regime who was involved
in a famous Cold War espionage entanglement,11 he made extensive use of psychodynamic
theories by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in a commentary Paumier published in CIA’s own
journal »Studies in Intelligence«.12 Thus he continued what psychologists and psychoanalysts
Walter C. Langer and Henry A. Murray began in 1943 on behalf of the OSS13 and what
psychodynamic oriented psychiatrist Jerrold M. Post and his CIA-based »Center for the
Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior« did for the CIA over a period of 21 years
An example of a far more problematic objective was outlined in »Subproject of
»Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification«.15 While
the main research interest of »Subproject 2« focused on ways of how to administer
psychoactive drugs on unwitting subjects (in this case on »criminals«), an additional research
8 Ibid., p. 115; see also: Cockburn & St. Clair, 1998, p. 191; Lee & Shlain, 1985, p. 31; Marks, 1979, p. 88.
9 Beinfeld, 2010, p. 483; Cockburn & St. Clair, 1998, p. 191, Marks, 1979, p. 88; Lee & Shlain, 1985, p. 99;
Treaster, 1975a.
10 OSS Assessment Staff, 1948, pp. V-VI; Beinfeld, 2010, p. 483; about the OSS-affiliation of Mabel B. Cohen,
Robert A. Cohen, & Alfred H. Stanton, see Beinfeld, 2010, p. 483; Müller, 2010b.
11 Otto John was the first president of West Germany’s counterintelligence service in 1950. He mysteriously
defected to East Germany in the summer of 1954 and suddenly reappeared in the West after a little more than a
year. Up to this day it is not clearly proven whether John was kidnapped or worked as either an agent for the
East German intelligence service or the KGB or as a double agent for both West and East German intelligence
agencies (Pace, 1997, p. B5; Heuwagen, 1997, p. 6).
12 Paumier, 1961, Communication to the Editors. Studies In Intelligence, 5(2), pp. 45-50.
Accessed: 01/13/18.
13 Langer, 1972, Murray, 1943.
14 Post, 2003, p. xi.
15 Foster, 2009 (Reprint of: US Senate, 1977).
effort prepared »[a] survey of methods which have been used by criminals for surreptitious
administration of drugs. Analysis of the psychodynamics of situations of this nature [is to be
The last sentence can be understood as a way to induce regressive processes in
conjunction with fostering transference dynamics that would create dependence of the subject
on the interrogator and thus weaken the subject’s defenses. As a result, key aspects of
psychodynamic functioning were used for manipulative purposes: regression (including the
enhancement of regressive processes as mentioned above) and transference. Elements of
psychoanalytic technique were thus reverse-engineered to manipulate targeted subjects for
interrogation purposes. The CIA’s 1963 torture manual KUBARK is very specific about the
use of regression and transference processes:
»The problem of overcoming the resistance of an uncooperative interrogate is essentially a
problem of inducing regression to a level at which the resistance can no longer be
sustained […]17 The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject’s
mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the
calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject
view the interrogator as a father-figure. The result, normally, is a strengthening of the
subject’s tendencies toward compliance«.18
A 1949 memorandum outlines the scope of the CIA’s interest in the early years of
behavioral control:
»General Interrogation: Routine interrogation methods, both formal and informal, utilizing
non-technical procedures to obtain the desired information.
Technical Aids to Interrogation:
Physical: Various methods of physical persuasion utilized to elicit information from the
uncooperative subject.
Psychological: Threats, inferences, promises and extended procedures stylized in special
interrogation approaches, softening-up procedures as an aid and verification in
interrogation procedures.
Mechanical: Various modes of lie detection apparatus utilized as an aid and verification in
interrogation procedures.
Medical: Various drugs, such as the so-called “truth serums,” utilized to break down
inhibitions and resistances and to produce short or prolonged control or influence over the
16 Ibid, p. 112.
17 KUBARK, 1963, p. 96
18 Ibid, p. 90.
subject. Also medical techniques used as a form of medical duress to produce pain or
discomfort to the subject.«19
On April 29, 1949, a memorandum was prepared outlining steps to be taken in order to
install a CIA program that included four specific fields of activity: »[P]ersonnel screening,
personnel security check, psychological and psychiatric treatment of personnel, and
interrogative research«.20 In the case of psychological and psychiatric treatment of CIA-
personnel, following treatments were recommended:
»[] [A]ccelerated psychoanalysis; treatment of personality and character deficiencies;
elimination of undesirable traits and habits such as smoking and drinking, stuttering, etc.,
and the treatment of various phobias; psychological regression and memory restoration;
tests and cure for sleep-talking; and the susceptibility and reaction to various stimulants
such as alcohol, Benzedrine, and caffeine.«21
As speculations of the use of mind-controlling drugs arose in connection with the
political show trial of Cardinal József Mindszenty in Soviet-controlled Hungary in 1949, the
fear that the USSR might have succeeded in developing a reliable transference/regression-
oriented interrogation technique progressed.22 Within due time, the CIA prepared a report on
this matter.23 Alarmed by the »anomalous and incomprehensive«24 behavior of the defendant
and his doubtful confessions, it was presumed that certain interrogation techniques must have
been employed by Hungarian (i.e. communist) forces the US-intelligence was not yet aware
of; techniques, the report stated, that were capable of »reorganization and reorientation of the
minds of the confessees«.25 As a consequence, the CIA began to reinforce already started OSS
and Navy projects that experimented with mind alteration techniques (such as the 1942 »OSS
truth drug committee« and Navy’s 1947 »Project CHATTER«).26
The following is an excerpt of a document dealing with the Mindszenty trial:
19 Mori ID#: 184383, p. 1.
20 Mori ID#: 148376, p. 1.
21 Ibid.
22 Drugging Feared in Cardinal’s Case, 1949; Mind-Control Studies Had Origins in Trial of Mindszenty, 1977.
23 Mori ID# 184374. This document is dated with an estimated publication date (1/1/1943), but since the
Mindszenty trial took place in 1949 (Mindszenty Has Confessed, Hungary Says, 1949, January 20, p. 8; United
Press, 1949, February 5, p. 1), the given publication date must be false. Another CIA memorandum (Mori ID#:
144891) is dated May 5, 1949, and contains the exact passages as quoted above. Thus, the above-mentioned
memorandum must have also been issued around May of 1949.
24 Mori ID#: 184374, p. 1.
25 Ibid.
26 Müller, 2016a; Lee, 2012, p. 58; Lee & Shlain, 1985, p. 5. Contrary to common arguments, the CIA was only
defensively implementing mind control programs to counter Soviet strategies of behavioral modification
techniques, I argue that the USA followed an offensive strategy that already began in 1942 by the
implementation of the OSS truth drug committee.
»[] There is adequate historical experience to establish that basic changes in the
functional organization of the human mind cannot be brought about by the traditional
methods of physical torture these at the most, achieve a reluctant, temporary yielding
and, moreover, leave their mark upon the victim.
Newer or more subtle techniques had, therefore, to be considered for the working
hypothesis. Among the recognized methods are:
a. Psychosurgery: a surgical separation of the frontal lobes of the brain.
b. Shock Methods:
(1) electrical
(2) drug: metrasol, canabis [sic] indica, insulin, cocaine.
c. Psychoanalytic methods
(1) psychoanalysis
(2) narco-analysis and synthesis
(3) hypno-analysis and synthesis
d. Combination of the foregoing.
1. Regression to infantile state of object dependency on a parental object (the State),
characteristic of hypnosis (consistent with transference phenomenon), a basic change
in character structure result hypnosis.
2. Necessary to determine:
a. Technique for dealing with resistance-repression dynamism.
b. Technique for obtaining regression to specific age level.
c. Reconstruct the psychodynamics of the change in the functional organization of
the patient
d. How the procedure is accelerated – resistances are high – usually require long
periods for resolution and full interaction with control (therapist).
Repeated and prolonged hypnosis during which subject reconditioned unconsciously
to his associational sensations – thus associated with personality and character change.
Conditioning of sensation to extraneous, innocuous events (as key words).
Background: - Psychoanalysis aims at a reorganization of the mind. Conscience was
divorced from the standards imposed in early life.«27
This CIA document suggests the unknown author was either knowledgeable of
psychoanalytic theory or was a trained psychoanalyst. It states that psychoanalysis was not
only one of the »recognized« methods but was thought to be a »newer and more subtle
technique« to manipulate subjects in interrogation settings. Thus it verifies how elements of
psychoanalytic technique were implemented as means of trying to grasp the function and
eventually the control of the human mind again emphasizing the use of regressive
techniques and the exploitation of transference processes.28
27 Mori ID#: 184374, p. 1-3.
28 I will not engage in a discussion whether the OSS/CIA-understanding of psychoanalysis had anything to do
with »psychoanalysis proper«. The OSS/CIA seemed to hold enough promises that certain »proper
The Agency invented its own term for the establishment of a sufficient rapport
between interrogator and the potential subject. They called it »the general ‘roping’ technique.
A basis of trust and friendship must be established by the operator before administering the
drug«. 29 In analytic terms, a »good enough« working alliance became central to CIA
interrogations. In conclusion, the CIA made use of psychoanalytic techniques to develop a
two-step program: First, the implementation of a working alliance, at best serving as a mildly
positive transference, followed by accelerated induction of psychic regression via
psychoanalysis itself or by incapacitating and thus dependence-enforcing substances or
various (electro-)shock treatments to enforce regressive psychic processes. The latter was
intended to undermine or break down defense mechanisms of a subject in order to get to the
»truth«. Concerning drug enforced regression the following CIA document states:
»The procedure is termed narco-synthesis or narco-analysis. The drug is merely
administered as a means of breaking down the person’s inhibitions and stimulating him to
reveal the problems that exist in both the conscious and subconscious mind. Actually the
procedure is merely one of several means of isolating and making contact with the
subconscious mind to the exclusion of conscious resistance.«30
Efforts in exploiting hypnosis for interrogation and mind-control purposes already
started during the times of the OSS. Several early CIA-memoranda also deal with this issue.31
An undated memorandum confers on the use of unwitting subjects in relation to hypnosis and
the use of psychoanalysis:
»The problem of how to effect control of a subject by the use of hypnosis or chemical or a
combination thereof, without the subject being aware that he is being approached [deleted],
is one of the most interesting and complex problems studies by the ARTICHOKE32 group.
This approach could (can) be made through any of the following techniques:
a) The subject who is brought under H [hypnosis] control by the use of the indirect
techniques (relax-rest or possibly monotonous sounds, etc.).
b) The subject who falls under H control by accident.
c) Use of “medical cover” for:
1) Narco-interrogation and control;
2) Narco-hypnotic interrogation and control.
d) Use of surreptitious agents
psychoanalysts« were more than willing to work for them, regardless of the OSS/CIA’s psychoanalytic
29 Mori ID#: 144769, p. 3.
30 Mori ID#: 149443, p. 1.
31 e.g. Mori ID#: 144892; 149613; 184472.
32 Project ARTICHOKE was the successor of Project BLUEBIRD, both early CIA mind-control research
programs (Müller, 2010b, 2016a, b).
1) Concealable chemicals
2) Odorless gases or aerosols
3) Dusts
4) Possible deprivation of oxygen or food
e) By-products of medical treatment
1) Shock therapy
2) Medical pre-conditioning with chemicals, etc.
3) Medical treatment for illness or accident
4) Psycho-analysis or psycho-therapy«33
Hypnosis was deemed an especially promising field of combining the psychic
phenomena of transference and regression to exploit »high-value«34 subjects of that era.
Breaking down psychological resistance was thus at the center of inquiry. G. H. Estabrooks,
an early adventurer of the hypnotic experience, was only one of several scientists trying to sell
hypnotic techniques to the CIA (as he has done to the OSS in post-Pearl Harbor years).35
Outlining the planned establishment of a »Security Validation Team«, 36 it was
proposed that such a team »should have an interrogator qualified to do skillful detailed and
general interrogation, to conduct both drug and hypnotic interrogation«.37 Over the course of
the next ten to fifteen years hypnosis as a regressive method became a key issue for various
research efforts conducted by CIA-affiliated scientists.
Regarding the early experimental triad – drugs, hypnosis, and physical techniques of
mind manipulation such as ECT (as well as fear/anxiety techniques like sensory deprivation
and isolation procedures, etc.) – the CIA utilized psychoanalytic knowledge as well as
psychoanalysts to work on all three components to exploit psychological mechanisms like
33 National Security Archive, John Marks Collection, n. d., p. 1.
34 „High-value [detainees]« is a neologism created by the Bush Administration, implying that the more »value« a
prisoner holds for the US, the more risk of abuse, torture, and murder by US-personnel is to be expected.
Another term used excessively by the Bush-Administration has been »enhanced interrogation technique[s]« or
»alternative set of procedures« which implies various forms of psychological and/or physical torture. This term
is the English translation of a set of procedures the Gestapo [secret police of Nazi Germany] called »Verschärfte
Vernehmung«, (enhanced/intensified interrogation) which included torture techniques such as the induction of
»hypothermia« (Sullivan, 2007), »food deprivation, hard bunks, dark cell [sensory deprivation], sleep
deprivation, exhaustion exercises [i.e. stress positions], but also the application of lashes with a stick« (Tuchel &
Schattenfroh, 1987, p. 2; translation: K.M.) each technique was reintroduced by the Bush Administration.
Later, most of them became »Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)« - another neologism reengineered to fit the
realm of Bush’s torture practices. Language, like truth, is always one of the first victims of governmental
35 Estabrooks, 1943; Marks, 1979, pp. 20-21.
36 Mori ID#: 149613. The »Security Validation Team« can be seen as a precursor of the DoD/CIA »Behavioral
Science Consultation Teams« (BSCT), also known as »biscuits«, used in the so-called »War on Terror« by the
Bush administration (Bloche & Marks, 2005; Mayer, 2008; Soldz, 2010a, pp. 72-79). These teams, consisting of
behavioral scientists (mainly psychologists), were implemented at Guantànamo Bay (and other Army and CIA
torture sites) to experiment on and execute psychological torture techniques via fear- and anxiety-inducing
strategies (Physicians for Human Rights, 2010).
37 Mori ID#: 149613, p. 2.
regression and transference.38 As CIA’s MKULTRA program progressed, (psychodynamic)
psychiatric expertise became paramount to interrogation and mind-control experiments.
Another CIA document speculates about »accelerated psychoanalysis« as mentioned
»Without presenting the detailed evidence, suffice it to say that all points toward the
application of techniques of hypnotic and/or hypno-analytic, the confessions being elicited
either by virtue of post hypnotic suggestion with resultant trance state, or by means of
accelerated psycho-analytic techniques with post hypnotic behavior.«39
These techniques are described as follows:
»Technique: (1) Narcosis induced by gradual admin. drug. (2) Hypnosis induced by verbal
suggestion during light narcosis preparatory for analysis and hypnosis. (3) Routine
investigation history, mental state, etc. (4) Regression and eliciting of remote events,
especially of childhood to establish contact and dynamics of ideation and orientation. (5)
After salient factors determining patient’s orientation are determined – new associations
are created to obtain new orientation to reality. (6) Repeat daily. (7) Post-hypnotic state
reinforced in waking patient by explanation, persuasion, and re-education. (8) Since
transference phenomena are common, it is important to choose an object which can be
made suitable and is adequate for environmental contact.«40
According to a small note by the Washington Post, the CIA also financed a study to
evaluate psychological consequences of circumcision, later to be identified as MKULTRA
subproject 74.41 The Post disclosed on October 2nd, 1977, that
»[t]he Central Intelligence Agency funded experiments in the early 1960s on circumcised
children to determine if the operation left any emotional aftereffects []. The aim was to
determine if circumcision at a significant stage of a child’s development produced
anxieties such as fear of castration []. ›The inability to resolve castration complex is
linked with the later emotional disorders, notably homosexuality,‹ said a CIA research
paper on the experiments. The experiments were part of a long-running program known as
MK-ULTRA, which focused on mind and behavior control«.42
In 1980 Edward Wallerstein published a book about circumcision that included the
following passage:
»Probably the most outrageous circumcision ›study‹ of the century was reported in the
New York Times in 1977.43 The Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) reported that in 1961 it
had arranged to have 15 boys, aged 5 to 7, circumcised. The boys were from low-income
38 For a more complete overview, see Müller, 2016b.
39 Mori ID#: 144891, p. 1.
40 Mori ID#: 144891, p. 3.
41 Foster, 2009, p. 512f
42 CIA Funded Circumcision Research, 1977.
43 Unfortunately, I was not able to find the New York Times notice via ProQuest. The Washington Post notice
carries the same date (October 2, 1977) and might be a reprint of the Times’s notice.
families; their ethnic backgrounds were not identified. The New York Times article stated
that the objective of the research was to determine whether castration anxieties were
caused by circumcision. The C.I.A. documents were ›heavily censored‹; however one
report noted that the research sought to determine whether such ›emotional disorders‹ as
homosexuality were related to castration complexes. Queries to the C.I.A. revealed that the
research findings had been destroyed. No information was available as to whether parental
consent had been re-quested or given. Clearly this ›study‹ represents surgical and
psychiatric experimentation with human subjects in violation of accepted medical practices
and government regulations.
The New York Times reported the story without immediate or delayed comment. So did the
Washington Post. A few days later, Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist, wrote a
blistering attack not only on the C.I.A. but on the silence that had ensued:
›I waited for some senator or congressman to yell bloody murder. Nothing. I waited for
someone to ask for an investigation. Nothing. I waited for an editorial, somebody maybe
asking what business it was of the C.I.A.’s to find out anything about circumcision.
The press carried no criticism or protest from any section of the medical establishment, or
any government official, of this prostitution of a surgical technique or of the surgeons who
performed the operations. It is not that the C.I. A. is immune to criticism. In recent years
hundreds of this agency's cloak and-dagger acts have been attacked-from the media to the
pulpit to Congress. Why then no comment when the issue is circumcision? Is the subject
The entire psychoanalytic establishment also utterly failed to comment on CIA’s
MKULTRA subproject 74.
Besides offering psychoanalytic treatment for mentally troubled OSS/CIA-agents in
security-cleared psychoanalytically oriented hospitals, several CIA documents outline the use
of psychodynamic approaches to enhance interrogation techniques and to gain additional
information on human behavior for exploitative means. Two distinct psychoanalytical
concepts were reverse-engineered by the CIA to foster interrogation methods and using them
as distinct methods in order to break the mind of a subject and eliminate its efforts to
implement adequate defense mechanisms. As the 2015 report of the »Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence«46 unequivocally showed, regression and the exploitation of
transference-related processes with isolated and sensory deprived subjects eventually amount
to psychological torture. Although it seems that only a few psychoanalysts did take part in
mind-control experiments (and an even fewer number might have been engaged in operational
OSS/CIA-activities), the destruction of CIA documents relating to these topics and the heavy
44 Cohen, 1977, in: Wallerstein, 1980, p. 195.
45 Wallerstein, 1980, p. 195.
46 SSCI, 2015.
censorship of the few remaining ones do raise the question whether the involvement of
psychoanalysts had indeed been only marginal, or if a greater number of psychoanalysts
collaborated with CIA-operations including, but not limited to, BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE,
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In an age when world affairs are powerfully driven by personality, politics require an understanding of what motivates political leaders such as Hussein, Bush, Blair, and bin Laden. Through exacting case studies and the careful sifting of evidence, Jerrold Post and his team of contributors lay out an effective system of at-a-distance evaluation. Observations from political psychology, psycholinguistics and a range of other disciplines join forces to produce comprehensive political and psychological profiles, and a deeper understanding of the volatile influences of personality on global affairs. Even in this age of free-flowing global information, capital, and people, sovereign states and boundaries remain the hallmark of the international order -- a fact which is especially clear from the events of September 11th and the War on Terrorism. Jerrold M. Post, M.D., is Professor of Psychiatry, Political Psychology, and International Affairs, and Director of the Political Psychology Program at George Washington University. He is the founder of the CIA's Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior.
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