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Personality & Individual Differences 1990, 11, 647-648.

RACIST EXTREMISM AND NORMAL PREJUDICE: A COMMENT ON GROSSARTH-MATICEK, EYSENCK & VETTER



J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W., Australia

Abstract

It is pointed out that the recent study by Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck & Vetter (1989) used a measure of prejudice that was couched in very extreme language and that only about 5% of the respondents agreed with any given item. This suggests the possibility that the observed relationship between ethnocentrism and personality would show up as a negligible correlation if results were presented in correlational form. Other problems with the prejudice scale are also pointed out. A parsimonious explanation is suggested for the finding that prejudice was reduced by a programme of psychological training originally designed to ward off heart disease.


The recent paper by Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck & Vetter (1989) reports a study of remarkable industry wherein no less than 6796 middle-aged West German males were surveyed. All subjects answered questions designed to categorize their personalities and to elicit their racial attitudes. It was concluded that different racial attitudes are related and that those with stress-free personalities are less prejudiced. Reduction of prejudice by therapy was also illustrated. This is undoubtedly a valuable body of data but the interpretation of it given by its authors seems to need some extension.

A quite curious aspect of the study was the measure of racist attitudes that was used. This was labelled as an inventory of "Political Prejudice" on the apparent grounds that only four out of eight items actually refer to race or specific races. This apparently ad hoc measure (with no known reliability or validity) contained items that immediately strike one as extremist and sweeping. Grossarth- Maticek et al claim, in fact, that this extremism was deliberate but the rationale given for why this was done "in order to obtain extreme judgments of prejudice" (p. 548) is rather cryptic. Did all the items have to be extreme? Might not a range of extremity have been more informative?

At any event, the result of this curious policy was that, on average, only about 5% of the sample agreed with any given item. The authors of the paper seem unperturbed by this aspect of their results but it must surely have considerable impact on how we interpret the findings. What was studied was not racism of the form that is endemic in most human societies but rather racism of an extreme and rather paranoid kind. Textbook writers such as Brown (1986) now refer to ethnocentrism and stereotyping as "universal ineradicable psychological processes". Since Grossarth-Maticek et al in their introduction also refer to their subject of study as "ethnocentrism" readers could be misled into thinking that Grossarth-Maticek et al were studying the same phenomenon as that described by Brown (1986). Very clearly, that is not so. The difference is the difference between a universal human phenomenon and something found among only a small minority (of middle-aged German males).

Given the deeds in World War II of certain middle-aged German males, however, the data is surely still of some interest. That being so, it seems a pity that the data were not analyzed in a way that would make the findings most comparable with other findings in racism research. Had the relationships between the prejudice scale and the personality scales been analyzed in terms of the Pearson product-moment correlation, the relationships would presumably have been low but how low? As low as the (generally negligible) relationship between anxiety and prejudice (Duckitt, 1985; Ray, 1988 & 1989)? It would be nice to know.

The analyses actually presented by Grossarth-Maticek et al rely on the judgment that assenting to just one out of eight statements of eccentric intergroup hostility makes a person a racist. The sample is subdivided into the tolerant and the intolerant on this basis. This practice, however, flies in the face of the entire rationale for using multi-item scales in the first place. The reason why we do not categorize a person on the basis of one statement is that any single statement has limited validity and generalizability. We can only put a person into some generalized category on the basis of an observed consistent tendency to assent to statements of a given kind. Assent to one particular statement might be due to idiosyncratic reasons unrelated to the construct which we think is represented by that statement.

The Grossarth-Maticek et al analyses must, then, be regarded as not meeting accepted standards of care in this field and are, therefore, of dubious meaning. In other words, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that those who were categorized as "racists" earned that distinction for largely random reasons.

Another problematical aspect of the paper is that the scale of prejudice used by Grossarth-Maticek et al was one-way-worded. This is excused by the authors on the grounds that a 1949 study by Eysenck & Crown found no acquiescence factor in a balanced scale of Antisemitism. This is, however, irrelevant as the normal effect of acquiescence is not to create a factor of its own but rather to cause the positive and negative items to load different and fairly orthogonal factors. Grossarth-Maticek et al also ignore the finding (Ray, 1983 & 1985) to the effect that meaningless acquiescent responding is highly unpredictable. Sometimes it "strikes" a scale or scales and sometimes it does not. The fact that it was absent on one occasion is certainly no warrant for believing it absent on any subsequent occasion. It is thus fully open to us to conclude that the correlation observed between items expressing different types of intergroup hostility was entirely due to a common factor of acquiescent bias.

Nonetheless, the finding that a therapeutic intervention essentially snuffed out the few initial pockets of avowed hostility (given the extremity of the items and an absence of validity data or a consistent thematic focus on race, "hostility" seems as good a name as "prejudice" for what the scale measures) could be seen as redeeming the study to a degree in that it suggests that something of interest might have been going on. It might therefore appear tenable to accept the Grossarth-Maticek et al conclusion that racism (of some sort) was studied in the paper concerned.

Whether the effect observed was on real hostility or only on avowed hostility would, however, be a proper question to bear in mind. Psychological "training" of any kind might well lead people to be more cautious in expressing hostile feelings without necessarily altering the underlying feelings themselves. Furthermore, since the psychological training given was designed to reduce risk of heart disease and since hostility appears to be the major psychological precursor of heart disease (Diamond, 1982) the effect observed could in fact be seen as rather simply explained. Training designed to reduce hostility did at least eliminate one type of expression of it.

REFERENCES

Brown, R.(1986) Social psychology (2nd. Ed.) N.Y.: Free Press.

Diamond, E.L. (1982) The role of anger and hostility in essential hypertension and coronary heart disease. Psychological Bulletin 92, 410-433.

Duckitt, J.H. (1985) Prejudice and neurotic symptomatology among white South Africans. J. Psychol. 119(1), 15-20.

Grossarth-Maticek, R., Eysenck, H.J. & Vetter, H. (1989) The causes and cures of prejudice: An empirical study of the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Personality & Individual Differences 10, 547-558.

Ray, J.J. (1983) 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. (1988) Racism and personal adjustment: Testing the Bagley hypothesis in Germany and South Africa. Personality & Individual Differences, 9, 685-686.

Ray, J.J. (1989) Anxiety and racism among urban Afrikaners. Journal of Social Psychology 129, 135-136.






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