Hitler produced thousands of paintings as a young struggling artist before joining the Bavarian Army at the outbreak of World War I
Hitler named worst villain of history in global study. Getty

Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and George W Bush have been found to be among the top 10 biggest villains of history, a global study polling almost 7,000 students has found.

While Hitler was the biggest villain, Albert Einstein was rated as most heroic. The full list can be seen at the end of this article.

The students, from 37 countries including Argentina, Pakistan, South Korea, Italy, and the US, were asked to evaluate 40 figures and significant events throughout world history.

Published in the journal PLOS One, findings show these historical figures help to create a base for building moral lessons.

Darío Páez, UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, said: "This study is linked to a previous piece of work carried out in 30 countries and in which young adults were asked to name the most important figures and events in world history.

"After that, we got together a group of figures and events gathered by all cultures, although with a reduced presence of facts and personalities from Arab and African cultures, as there were fewer surveys from these cultural areas."

Heroes vs Villains

Albert Einstein
Einstein was found to be the hero of historyHulton Archive/Getty Images

The students were asked to rate on a scale from one to seven how positive or negative the events and historical figures were. Findings showed a clear consensus about what the negative events were, but results were not as clear when it came to the villains themselves.

"There is greater disparity of opinion about the villains," the authors said. "The same figure may be very negatively rated in one country, or not very negatively or even very positively in another part of the world. That would be the case of Osama bin Laden, for example".

The study also showed that people tend to evaluate heroes positively, but do not completely vilify the villains. Páez explained: "They are those people defined as political, Machiavellian or pragmatic realists and when one considers that Hitler, Stalin or Saddam Hussein wielded power at some moment, these individuals don't have to be rated negatively because they were successful in their struggle for power. This 'Confucian' view emerges strongly in Asian countries.

"Above all, this variability is shown in the 'villains' because there is a certain cultural consensus on the 'heroes' suggested in this study; most of them agree that Einstein and Mandela are heroes. For example, the view of Osama bin Laden is more positive in Arab culture, and that of George W. Bush is much more negative and, conversely, if one takes American culture into consideration."

Concluding, the authors say the study suggests there is a clear consensus on the world's heroes, but the same is not so true for history's villains. There was greater variability between cultures, with the finding especially poignant for more recent baddies.

"The heroes are clearly scientists, discoverers and people who fought for liberties and progress. By contrast, the differentiation among the villains is much greater," Páez said. "Even if in almost all cultures the top villain, the worst rated, is Hitler, there is variability in some cultures in which he is evaluated less negatively."

heroes and villains
Full list of the 40 heroes and villainsHanke et al/PLOS One