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Politics, Volume 6 (1), May, 1971, pp. 92-93.

AUSTRALIANS AUTHORITARIAN? A CRITIQUE OF J. W. BERRY "AUTHORITARIANISM AND ETHNOCENTRISM IN AUSTRALIANS"



J. J. RAY

Berry (1970) says Australians are more authoritarian than Canadians because they assent more to questionnaires containing authoritarian statements. He also says that their higher scores on an acquiescence measure indicate that they are not "independent".

His first point is vitiated by a failure to take account of two possibilities:

(1) Scores on authoritarianism scales have been shown not to relate to the practice of authoritarian behaviour. At most, F scale scores are slightly related to submissive behaviour (see Titus, 1968). Similar doubts have long been expressed for the relationship between ethnocentric attitudes and behaviour (La Piere, 1934).

(2) Social desirability response set (Edwards, 1957) has not been controlled for. In other words, Canadians ~ and Australians might be equally prejudiced but Australians might be more frank in reporting the fact. This is not just a repetition of the first point. Even a perfectly frankly reported ethnocentric attitude might not lead to ethnocentric behaviour. If Berry's study had been a really serious one, he could have controlled for the possibility advanced here by administering the well-known Edwards SD scale and removing the influence of social desirability by some statistical technique such as partial correlation or analysis of covariance.


Speaking of statistical control, one also is curious to know the details of how Berry corrected for social class differences in his two samples. It is clear enough how he got his corrected mean -- simply the grand mean of the class means. But how did he get his corrected standard deviation? For this statistic one cannot take the "grand mean" of the class standard deviations -- simply because a standard deviation is not in fact a measure of central tendency. It is a measure of dispersion. This matter is important. Without a correct standard deviation, the "t" test of statistical significance for the difference between Australian and Canadian means cannot be meaningfully calculated.

Berry's second point founders on the identification of Bass acquiescence scale scores as measuring the opposite of "independence" and "scepticism". There is in fact generally little relationship between the various measures of acquiescence that have been proposed (McGee, 1962). This shows that there is no such thing as a unitary trait of acquiescence. Just what inferences we draw from the fact (demonstrated by Berry) that Australians tend to agree more with proverbs is therefore hard to know.

Finally, Berry appears to imply a favourable value-judgment of alienation. I would submit that this is at the least questionable and at the most absurd.

Imitating Berry, I would therefore like to conclude by saying (of his assertion that Australians are authoritarian, ethnocentric and acquiescent) : "Unfortunately this myth does not stand up either."

REFERENCES


{Articles below by J.J. Ray can generally be accessed simply by clicking on the name of the article. I am however also gradually putting online a lot of abstracts, extracts and summaries from older articles by other authors so if an article not highlighted below seems of particular interest, clicking here or here might just save you a trip to the library}


Berry, J. W. "Preliminary Evidence for Personal Authoritarianism and Ethnocentrism in Australians", Politics, 1970, 5, 228-29.

Edwards, A. L. The Social Desirability Variable in Personality Assessment and Research, Holt Rinehart, New York, 1957.

La Piere, R. T. "Attitudes and Actions", Social Forces, 1934, 13, 230-37.

McGee, R. K. "The Relationship Between Response Style and Personality Variables: I. The Measurement of Response Acquiescence", J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol., 1962, 64, 229-33.

Titus, H. E. "F Scale Validity Considered Against Peer Nomination Criteria", Psychol. Record, 1968, 18, 395-403.

POST-PUBLICATION ADDENDUM

In his reply to the above article, Berry admitted that he had made up his standard deviation (in his words "estimated" it). If psychology were a real science, this would be a fatal blow to the credibility of the person concerned but psychology is mostly only a pretend science so Berry rightly judged that such an admission would do him no harm.

Also in his reply he also says that he merely used attitude data as independent confirmation of behavioural observations. The "behavioural observations", however, do not seem to be based on any kind of random sampling.

In a third point he relies on dictionaries for his information about the world. One wonders why he thinks psychological research is at all necessary in that case. I hate to point out the obvious but dictionaries are an authority on words, not the world. Words can be used or misused, used wisely or used foolishly.

He goes on to say that his measure of acquiescence is the best there is but ignores the issue of how generalizable such measures are. He had in front of him evidence that they generalize very poorly -- certainly much more poorly than his conclusions would require.




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