Sex Roles, Vol. 16, Nos. 11/12, 1987. pp. 559-562.
INTOLERANCE OF AMBIGUITY AMONG PSYCHOLOGISTS: A Comment on Maier and Lavrakas
J. J. Ray
University of NSW, Australia
Maier and Lavrakas ("Attitudes Toward Women, Personality Rigidity, and Idealized Physique Preferences in Males, " Sex Roles, 1984, 11(S/6), 425-4.33) claim to have shown that males with a rigid personality structure seek an idealized muscular physique. It is pointed out that their measure of rigidity (the F scale) is based on an oversimplified and extensively disconfirmed theory, which is itself intolerant of ambiguity. Continued acceptance of the theory is also therefore intolerant of ambiguity. It is proposed that the correct interpretation of the Maier and Lavrakas findings should have been that it is old-fashioned to idealize a muscular physique.
Most psychologists are probably aware that it was the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950) that transformed the desire for conceptual simplicity into "intolerance of ambiguity" and thereby branded it as deviant and maladaptive. It is therefore a considerable irony that authoritarian personality theory itself has proved to be a vast oversimplification. Anyone intolerant of ambiguity could ask for nothing better than the Adorno et al. (1950) theory. All the "baddies" (authoritarians, racists, anti-Semites, conservatives, punitive people, rigid thinkers) are conveniently shown to be essentially all the same. Despite all the evidence of extreme authoritarianism on both the right and the left, to Adorno et al. authoritarians are rightists. Despite such obvious examples of racism on the left as the antisemitism of Marx himself (Blanchard, 1984), to Adorno et al. racists too were rightists.
Evidence accumulated since Adorno et al. (1950) wrote has also completely unraveled the neatly covarying universe they postulated (Brown, 1965). High scores on the F scale are not particularly dogmatic, Machiavellian, mentally ill, maladjusted, dishonest, unsociable, weak in ego, dominant, unhappy, unadventurous, tough-minded, suspicious, guilty, or tense (Kline & Copper, 1984). Racist attitudes, instead of being monolithic, are highly multidimensional (Kippax & Brigden, 1977; Paulsen & Balch, 1984; Trlin & Johnston, 1973; Ray, 1974). Rather than being consistent personality traits across measures and across situations, cognitive styles such as rigidity and intolerance of ambiguity seem to be measure specific and situation specific (Bochner, 1965; Hageseth, 1983; Kline & Cooper, 1985; Ray, 1972; Stewin, 1983; Tiedemann, 1984). Stereotyping can be useful and adaptive (Berry, 1970) and authoritarians are not particularly prone to it anyway (Tom, Cooper, & McGraw, 1984). Racism is unrelated to upbringing (Sidanius, Ekehammar, & Brewer, 1986) and its main cause seems to be actually coming into contact with people of different cultures or loyalties (Ginsberg, 1981; Kraus, 1984; Marin & Salazar, 1985; Ostow, 1983; Marjoribanks & Jordan, 1986; Mitchell, 1968; Shamir & Sullivan, 1985; Stephan & Stephan, 1985). It can also be caused by perceived threat (Shamir & Sullivan, 1985) and it can be rational (Banton, 1983). Jews are quite prone to it (Ginsberg, 1981; Eisenstadt, 1983; Kraus, 1984; Shamir & Sullivan, 1985), so it is tempting to think that it is universal rather than deviant.
One could go on. The desultory selection of citations given above are mainly from the last few years, but similar selections could be given from most of the last 35 years of psychological research. It is therefore hard to see why anyone accepts anything of the authoritarian personality theory anymore. It must hold some sort of record for the torrent of criticism it has attracted (Altemeyer, 1981; McKinney, 1973; Christie & Jahoda, 1954). Yet in the work of Maier and Lavrakas (1984) we find the old Adorno ideas still pristine. It is as if 35 years of disconfirmatory research had not happened. The California F scale is called a measure of "rigid personality structure." All that disconfirmatory research cannot be allowed to create any ambiguity, can it?
If the F scale does not measure rigidity of personality, what does it measure? It does not measure conservatism because in general population samples it fails to predict political party preference (Hanson, 1975; Ray, 1973, 1985). It does not measure authoritarianism because it fails to predict authoritarian behavior (Ray & Lovejoy, 1983; Titus, 1968; Titus & Hollander, 1957). Our best clue to what it measures, therefore, is the work of Pflaum (1964). Pflaum found that a highly successful parallel form of the F scale could be constructed from collections of myths and superstitions prevalent in the 1920s. Someone who gets a high score on the F scale is therefore someone who is still lost in the culture of the prewar era. He or she is simply "old-fashioned."
What Maier and Lavrakas (1984) found, therefore, was that it is oldfashioned to idealize a muscular physique. In the prewar era the machine age was much less developed than it is now and muscle still did have practical importance. It is very rare for it to have such importance today. For furniture removalists, perhaps, but other examples are hard to find. So when properly interpreted the Maier and Lavrakas (1984) findings make considerable sense but their own interpretation seems to indicate considerable intolerance of ambiguity.
Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J., & Sanford, R. N. The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper, 1950.
Altemeyer, R. A. Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1981.
Banton, M. Racial and ethnic competition. Cambridge, England: University of Cambridge Press, 1983.
Berry, J. W. A functional approach to the relationship between stereotypes and familiarity. Australian Journal of Psychology, 1970, 22(1), 29-33.
Blanchard, W. H. Karl Marx and the Jewish question. Political Psychology, 1984, 5(3), 365-374.
Bochner, S. Intolerance of ambiguity as a personal variable. Psychological Record, 1965, 15, 393-400.
Brown, R. Social psychology, New York: Free Press, 1965.
Christie, R., & Jahoda, M. Studies in the scope and method of "The Authoritarian Personality" Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1954.
Eisenstadt, S. N. Some comments on the "ethnic" problem in Israel. Israel Social Science Research, 1983, 1(2), 20-29.
Ginsberg, Y. Jewish attitudes toward black neighbors in Boston and London. Ethnicity, 1981, 8, 206-218.
Hageseth, J. A. Relationships among cognitive complexity variables. Psychological Reports, 1983, 52, 473-474.
Hanson, D. Authoritarianism as a variable in political research. Il Politico, 1975, 40, 700-705.
Kippax, S., & Brigden, D. Australian stereotyping -- A comparison. Australian Journal of Psychology, 1977, 29(2), 89-96.
Kline, P., & Cooper, C. A factorial analysis of the authoritarian personality. British Journal of Psychology, 1984, 75, 171-176.
Kline, P., & Cooper, C. Rigid personality and rigid thinking. Brit. J. Educational Psychology, 1985, 55(1), 24-27.
Kraus, V. Social segregation in Israel as a function of objective and subjective attributes of the ethnic groups. Sociology and Social Research, 1984, 69(1), 50-71.
Maier, R. A.; & Lavrakas, P. J. Attitudes towards women, personality rigidity, and idealized physique preferences in males. Sex Roles, 1984, 11(5/6), 425-433.
Marin, G., & Salazar, J. M. Determinants of hetero- and autostereotypes: Distance, level of contact, and socioeconomic development in seven nations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1985, 16(4), 403-422.
Marjoribanks, K., & Jordan, D. F. Stereotyping among Aboriginal and Anglo-Australians. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1986, 17, 17-28.
McKinney, D. W. The authoritarian personality studies. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton, 1973.
Mitchell, I. S. Epilogue to a referendum. Australian Journal of Social lssues, 1968, 3(4), 9-12.
Ostow, M. A contribution to the study of antisemitism. Israel Journal of Psychiatry & Related Sciences, 1983, 20(1-2), 95-118.
Paulsen, K., and Balch, P. A note on the assessment of ethnic attitudes in preschool children. Journal of Community of Psychology, 1984, 12(3), 288-290.
Pflaum, J. Development and evaluation of equivalent forms of the F scale. Psychological Reports, 1964, 15, 663-669.
Ray, J.J. (1972) Non-ethnocentric authoritarianism. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 8(June), 96-102.
Ray, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232.
Are racists ethnocentric? Ch. 46 in Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.
Ray, J.J. (1984). Half of all racists are Left-wing. Political Psychology, 5, 227-236.
Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1983). The behavioral validity of some recent measures of authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120, 91-99.
Shamir, M., & Sullivan, J. L. Jews and Arabs in Israel: Everybody hates somebody, sometime. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1985, 29(2), 283-305.
Sidanius, J., Ekehammar, B.; & Brewer, R. M. The political socialization determinants of higher order sociopolitical space: A Swedish example. Journal of Social Psychology, 1986, 126(1), 7-22.
Stephan, W. G., & Stephan, C. W. Intergroup anxiety. Journal of Social issues, 1985, 41(3), I57-175.
Stewin, L. The concept of rigidity: An enigma. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 1983, 6(3), 227-232.
Tiedemann, J. Feldabhaengigkeit/Feldunabhaengigkeit: Kompetenz statt Praeferenz. Zeitschrift fuer Entwicklungspsychologie und Paedagogische Psychologie, 1984, 6(2), 162-171.
Titus, H. E. F scale validity considered against peer-nomination criteria. Psychological Record, 1968, 18, 395-403.
Titus, H. E., & Hollander, E. P. The California F scale in psychological research. Psychological Bulletin, 1957, 54, 47-64.
Tom, D. Y., Cooper, H., & McGraw, M. Influence of student background and teacher authoritarianism on teacher expectations. Journal of Educational Psychology, 1984, 76, 259-265.
Trlin, A. D., & Johnston, R. J. Dimensionality of attitudes towards immigrants: A New Zealand example. Australian Journal of Psychology, 1973, 25(3), 183-189.
A more extensive coverage of the above topic is as under:
Ray, J.J. (Unpublished) ARE PSYCHOLOGISTS INTOLERANT OF AMBIGUITY?
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