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Psychology 1990, 27, 43-46.

AUTHORITARIANISM IN MIDDLE AMERICA



J.J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia

and

R. Pedersen

C.W. Post College



Abstract

Nassau county in New York State was arbitrarily selected as an area that might give some view of what middle-America was like. Five hundred randomly selected addressees in the county received a postal questionnaire which included a balanced F scale and the Ray "Directiveness" scale. With two follow-ups, 97 replies were finally available for analysis. When compared with other random samples from West Germany and South Africa, Americans were found to be higher scorers on the F scale than Germans but to be similar to South African whites. Americans were also more directive than South African whites. The two authoritarianism scales showed satisfactory reliability and internal consistency. It was concluded that middle America tends towards "authoritarianism" in both senses studied. What is meant by "authoritarian" is, however, seen to be problematic.


INTRODUCTION

From the results of a 1979 California survey, Ray (1980b) reported the surely rather surprising finding that Americans today are higher scorers on the California F scale than were the groups studied by Adorno et al (1950) in the 1940s. Given the demonstration by Ray (1987 & 1988) that the F scale is very little more than a collection of old-fashioned myths and superstitions, the effluxion of time alone should have caused some lowering of average F scale scores.

The explanation advanced by Ray (1980b) for his finding referred to the indubitable though not always high (Ray, 1983a) correlation between F scale score and education. It was suggested that the low means reported by Adorno et al were what was to be expected when those surveyed were mainly college students or graduates. Nonetheless there is still something unsatisfactory in Ray (1980b) basing his estimate of authoritarianism among modern-day Americans on the responses of a sample of Los Angelenos. Los Angeles is not the United States. How do Americans in general score?

But surely there have been many occasions when the F scale has been applied (either as a whole or in part) to random samples of the United States population? Is there any room or need for speculation? Unfortunately there is. To this day most of the research with the F scale seems to be carried out with the original, unbalanced form of that scale. Although quite satisfactory balanced forms of the scale have been available for years (e.g. the Ray, 1972, "BF" scale), they have been very little used in the United States. The role of acquiescent response bias in F scale scores continues thus to remain problematical in most published research (Ray, 1983a & 1985). How much of the supposed "authoritarianism" of modern-day Americans is mere acquiescence we do not know.

We also do not know how much the F scale (in any version) measures authoritarianism. The scale is certainly a signal failure as a predictor of authoritarian behavior (Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). Use of scales with more behavioral relevance certainly seems needed. One such scale is the Ray (1976) "Directiveness" scale. Ray (1976) proposed that the core element of any conception of authoritarianism is domineering behaviour ("The desire or tendency to impose one's own will on others") and went on to show that the Directiveness scale did indeed predict such behavior. The level of American authoritarianism in this sense too would therefore seem to be of some interest. Ray (1980b) did include the Directiveness scale in his Los Angeles survey but once again we must question whether Los Angeles is representative of the United States.

Below is reported, therefore, a modest attempt to extend our knowledge of authoritarianism in the United States. Without massive institutional funding, a random sample of the entire country could not be attempted. What was attempted, therefore, was a survey of one American community that seemed rather typical of middle America. The aim was not only to examine average levels of authoritarianism among Americans but also to carry out psychometric checks on the two proposed measures of authoritarianism. The suspicion shown by Christie, Havel & Seidenberg (1956) that the F scale is "irreversible" still seems to be widely shared so an examination of the internal consistency of both the Ray (1972 & 1979b) balanced F (BF) scale and the Ray (1976) Directiveness scale among American respondents seems needed. Most of Ray's findings with these scales have been derived from samples of Australians.


METHOD and RESULTS

The 14-item short forms of the BF and Directiveness scales (Ray, 1980b) were included in a questionnaire mailed out to recipients selected at random from the phonebook of Nassau County, New York State. Nassau county is heavily white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant in culture and its people are generally in comfortable economic circumstances. It was selected as somewhere that seemed to typify mainstream American society. It was believed that use of the phonebook as the sampling frame would have excluded no more than 1% of potential respondents. Five hundred questionnaires were sent out followed by two waves of follow-up questionnaires to non-respondents.

The first mailing produced 98 replies and the later mailings added only 10 more to this. Of the 108 final replies, 11 were incomplete. Thus 97 responses were available for analysis.

The reliability (alpha) of the Directiveness and BF scales on this sample was found to be .75 and .74 respectively. This was in line with the results in other Western countries and was considered satisfactory in such short scales. The positively-worded and negatively-worded halves of each scale were found to correlate -.313 and -.415 with one another respectively. The -.415 correlation between the two halves of the BF scale should set at rest doubts about the supposed "irreversibility" of the F scale (Christie, Havel & Seidenberg, 1956). The mean score on the Directiveness scale with three response options per item (Yes, ?, No) was 29.81 (S.D. 5.46). The mean on the BF scale with the original 7-point response options for each item was 54.96 (S.D. 11.81). In terms of the average item mean used by Adorno et al (1950), this translates to a mean of 3.92. Respondents were, in other words, very close to being evenly balanced between agreeing and disagreeing with F scale type sentiments.


DISCUSSION

Whether the above American means on two types of "authoritarianism" are high or low can surely only be judged with reference to the scores observed in other countries. The two countries of greatest comparative interest in this context seemed to be modern-day Germany and the Republic of South Africa. The role of Germany vis a vis authoritarianism is surely forever etched in history and South Africa would also seem to be something of a bete noir in that connection. Fortunately, mean scores on the two scales are available in the literature for both these countries.

In the German case, a 1982 sample of the Munich conurbation (Ray & Kiefl, 1984) showed a Directiveness scale mean of 28.54 (S.D. 5.44). The BF scale mean was 44.87 (13.75). In terms of the average item mean used by Adorno et al this latter mean translates to 3.20. Thus middle Americans were shown to be non-significantly more Directive than contemporary Germans and highly significantly (t = 5.75; p<.001) more "Pre-Fascist" in ideology (as defined by Adorno et al) than contemporary Germans. Contemporary Germans do however appear to have particularly low F scale scores (Ray & Kiefl, 1984) so the comparison with white South Africans is perhaps of greater interest.

In a random sample of 100 Johannesburg whites taken in 1978 (Ray, 1980a) Directiveness scale and BF scale means were found to be 28.08(5.79) and 42.14 (5.50). The BF scale on this occasion, however, was unfortunately administered with five response options per item rather than seven. This means that comparisons can only be approximate. Fortunately, however, it is clear that the South African mean, too, was very close to the midpoint (42) of the scale. Americans score just below the midpoint and South Africans just above. Both groups could however accurately be described as almost equally poised between accepting and rejecting F scale type sentiments. White South Africans and middle Americans would seem to be ideologically very similar. Americans, however, were more authoritarian than South Africans (p <.05) as assessed by the Directiveness scale. Thus, if we use white South Africans as the criterion for a highly authoritarian population, then middle Americans too must also be said to be highly authoritarian.

What does it mean if we say that Americans are high scorers on the F scale? As we have seen earlier, it cannot be taken to mean that they are more prone to behave in authoritarian ways. Ray (1987 & 1988) used a study by Pflaum (1964) to show that the high F scorer is basically someone who was lost in the culture of the past. He or she is "old-fashioned". What constitutes being old-fashioned may be gathered from a recent large study by Kline & Cooper (1984). These authors found several significant and interesting correlates of F scale score and endeavoured to interpret their findings in ways that did not conflict with the Adorno et al theory. As Ray (1989) has shown, however, their data were rather unco-operative. What they found was that high F scorers were "nice" to other people, had good self-control, were forceful, conscientious and inclined to perfectionism (Ray, 1989). The prevalence of such traits would not seem to be any cause for concern. The Directiveness scale too has been shown to have various socially desirable correlates (Ray, 1979a; Ray & Lovejoy, 1986).


REFERENCES

Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1951) The authoritarian personality. N.Y.: Harper.

Christie, R., Havel, J. & Seidenberg, B.(1956) Is the 'F' scale irreversible? J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol. 56, 141-158.

Kline, P. & Cooper, C. (1984) A factorial analysis of the authoritarian personality. British J. Psychol. 75, 171-176.

Pflaum, J. (1964) Development and evaluation of equivalent forms of the F scale. Psychol. Reports 15, 663-669.

Ray, J.J. (1972) A new balanced F scale -- And its relation to social class. Australian Psychologist 7, 155-166.

Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

Ray, J.J. (1979a) The authoritarian as measured by a personality scale Solid citizen or misfit? J. Clinical Psychology 35, 744-746.

Ray, J.J. (1979b) A short balanced F scale. Journal of Social Psychology, 109, 309-310.

Ray, J.J. (1980a) Racism and authoritarianism among white South Africans. Journal of Social Psychology, 110, 29-37.

Ray, J.J. (1980b) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

Ray, J.J. (1983a) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

Ray, J.J. (1983b) Reviving the problem of acquiescent response bias. Journal of Social Psychology 121, 81-96.

Ray, J.J. (1985) Acquiescent response bias as a recurrent psychometric disease: Conservatism in Japan, the U.S.A. and New Zealand. Psychologische Beitraege 27, 113-119.

Ray, J.J. (1987) Intolerance of ambiguity among psychologists: A comment on Maier & Lavrakas. Sex Roles 16, 559-562.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.

Ray, J.J. (1989) The scientific study of ideology is too often more ideological than scientific. Personality & Individual Differences, 10, 331-336.

Ray, J.J. & Kiefl, W. (1984) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in contemporary West Germany. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 3-19.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1983). The behavioral validity of some recent measures of authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120, 91-99.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1986) A comparison of three scales of directiveness. Journal of Social Psychology 126, 249-250.

Titus, H.E. (1968) F scale validity considered against peer nomination criteria. Psychological Record 18, 395-403.




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