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This article was written in 1991 for The Journal of Social Psychology but was not accepted for publication


J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W., Australia

In one recent issue of The Journal of Social Psychology, two separate papers appeared which asserted a connection between "authoritarianism" and rejecting attitudes towards AIDS victims (Witt, 1990 and Larsen, Elder, Bader & Dougard, 1990). The basis for this assertion was a correlation between scores on two forms of the California F scale and scales of attitudes towards AIDS victims. Witt found a correlation of .45 and Larsen et al. found a correlation of .17. The latter correlation is of only borderline significance but is based on a one-way-worded version of the F scale. Witt, on the other hand, used a balanced F scale which should have stimulated more thoughtful responding so his result is likely to be the more informative.

Although it is of course conventional to describe the F scale as a measure of "authoritarianism", to do so ignores decades of evidence which shows that the F scale does not measure authoritarianism. Titus & Hollander (1957), in their review of early research with the F scale, commented that the F scale correlated primarily with other pencil and paper measures rather than with any behaviour that could be described as authoritarian. Subsequent research has repeatedly confirmed this conclusion (Titus, 1968; Altemeyer, 1981; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983; Ray, 1989). The F scale, then, is simply not valid as a measure of authoritarian personality. To continue to speak as if it were is quite simply unscientific.

If the F scale does not measure authoritarianism, what does it measure? The fact that it tends to correlate well with various scales labelled as measuring "conservatism" (Ray, 1973) initially tended to suggest that the F scale might measure political attitudes but this interpretation was undermined by the finding that the F scale gives negligible prediction of vote in national elections -- particularly among general population samples. In other words, many Leftist voters (even George McGovern supporters) get high F scale scores (Hanson, 1975; Ray, 1983).

There are various alternative interpretations of what the F scale measures (e.g. Gabennesch, 1972), but the present author has on a number of occasions argued that the conception which explains the data best is "old-fashioned orientation" (Ray, 1983 & 1988). High F scorers are "old-fashioned" or living in the culture of the past. It would be superrogatory to present yet again the reasoning behind this conclusion but let it be noted that this conception does provide a good explanation of the findings presently under discussion. As Larsen et al. observe, attitude to homosexuals is a central component of attitude to AIDS victims (who are predominantly homosexual) so we need to ask what would be the attitude of an old-fashioned person towards homosexuality. The answer is obvious. In many places homosexuality has only recently been legalized and past attitudes were clearly more rejecting of homosexuality than are modern-day attitudes. So old-fashioned people dislike homosexuals and, as a concomitant, distance themselves from AIDS victims. THAT is what the correlations with the F scale show.


Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Gabennesch, H. (1972) Authoritarianism as world view American J. Sociology 77, 857-875

Hanson, D.J. (1975) Authoritarianism as a variable in political research. Il Politico 40, 700-705.

Larsen, K.S., Elder, R., Bader, M. & Dougard, C. (1990) Authoritarianism and attitude toward AIDS victims. J. Social Psychology 130, 77-80.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Conservatism, authoritarianism and related variables: A review and an empirical study. Ch. 2 in: G.D. Wilson (Ed.) The psychology of conservatism London: Academic Press.

Ray, J.J. (1983). Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.

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

Ray, J.J. (1989) Authoritarianism research is alive and well -- In Australia: A review. Psychological Record, 39, 555-561.

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

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

Titus, H.E. & Hollander, E.P. (1957) The California F scale in psychological research: 1950-1955. Psychological Bulletin 54, 47-64.

Witt, L.A. (1990) Factors affecting attitudes toward persons with AIDS J. Social Psychology 130, 127-129.

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