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The Journal of Social Psychology, 1983, 119, 173-179.

AMBITION AND DOMINANCE AMONG THE PARSEES OF INDIA*



The University of New South Wales, Australia

JOHN J. RAY

SUMMARY

The Parsees are Indians descended from Zoroastrian refugees who fled Persia at the time of the Moslem conquest. They are highly Westernized and economically very successful. A sample of the Bombay Parsee community answered a questionnaire which included scales of achievement motivation, authoritarianism, neuroticism, and social desirability. The same scales had previously been administered to a random sample of the whole of Bombay and a sample of Bombay residents with college education. Various international comparisons were also available. When compared with other Indians, Parsees were found to be low on achievement motivation and high on interpersonal authoritarianism. The previous sample showing a level of achievement motivation nearest to that of the Parsees was a sample of Los Angelenos. The results were consistent with previous findings showing that --contrary to McClelland's thesis -- economic success is associated more with dominance than with ambition.


A. INTRODUCTION

In the study of ethnic minorities, one of the most striking contrasts is the contrast in economic success. Some minorities are very poor relative to their host communities (e.g., American Negroes, Australian Aborigines, Japanese Ainus), while others are notably prosperous (e.g., Jews and most Asians living outside Asia). One of the most extreme examples of an economically very successful minority is the Parsee community of India. Although their origins are now rather encrusted with myth and legend, it seems clear that they are the descendants of a group of about 600 Persians who fled Persia at the time of the Moslem conquest so that they could retain the traditional religion of the Persian empire -- Zoroastrianism. They found a home in the North Western Indian State of Gujurat and Gujurati is now their native language. In spite of strong religious prohibitions on exogamy, considerable intermarriage seems to have occurred: some Parsees are now as brown in skin color as are the surrounding Indians. Generally, however, they are very fair-skinned by Indian standards. After the British advent in India, most Parsees moved to Bombay, where they generally became intermediaries between the British and the other Indians. The Bombay community now constitutes the great majority of the world's Parsees. Although it is minute by Indian standards (a total of only about 90,000 people), it is nonetheless a declining population. Difficulty since Indian independence in retaining their traditionally high standard of living seems to have caused Parsees to marry later and later in life.

The role of the Parsees in Indian economic life has been prodigious. In the early days, they were the merchants (particularly in the opium trade), shipowners, shipbuilders, bankers, and cotton-millers. In more recent times, just one Parsee family, the Tatas, founded India's steel, motor vehicle, and nuclear industry. Until recently, they even ran India's international airline. Parsee charities are also legendary. Almost all the stock of the Tata companies is now held by Parsee charitable foundations. The Tata hotel company not only owns the famous Taj Mahal hotels in Bombay and Delhi but has also recently begun to acquire and manage hotels in Britain.

Even outside the economic sphere, Parsees have been amazingly prominent. Only three Indians have ever sat in the English House of Commons (Parliament). All of them were Parsees, one a socialist, one a conservative, and one a liberal. Parsees founded most of Bombay's newspapers and ran most of its politics up until independence. Although they were generally very pro-British, Parsees were also very prominent in the Indian independence movement and the design of the Indian flag today is the work of an early Parsee radical (Madam Cama). India's present ruler (Mrs. Gandhi) married a Parsee and her son is also therefore a Parsee. Parsees have also been very education-oriented and founded many Western type schools in the early days.

It may be clear from the above why the Parsees are sometimes referred to as "The Jews of India" (16). Although there is a wealth of historical and some sociological writing on the Parsees (4, 5), there seems to be no psychological literature on them. This is all the more remarkable when we consider how the Parsees have managed to live at peace with their neighbors for the last thousand years. This is a sad contrast with the history of persecution that is characteristic of the Jews. Both Zoroastrianism and Judaism are monotheistic religions. Both Jews and Parsees are economically and socially prominent minorities. What differences about them could account for their different history of acceptability to their neighbors? The present study was carried out with the aim of gathering at least some very basic data on Parsee psychology.

B. METHOD

The hypothesis chosen for examination seemed obvious: that Parsees are more dominant and achievement motivated than their neighbors. Their history certainly shows them to have behaved in this way but, as we now know, the connection between attitudes and behavior is often not a direct one (3, 9).

Sampling a tiny ethnic minority in a city of eight million is no easy task. The size of a random sample needed to produce a Parsee subsample sufficiently large for separate analysis would be prohibitive. The only practical possibility seemed to be a sample gathered with the active cooperation of Parsee community institutions. The author was fortunate late in 1981 in obtaining the energetic assistance of Ms. Dinaz Sadri of the Sir Ratan Tata Institute. Ms. Sadri distributed bundles of questionnaires to Parsees in all walks of life throughout Bombay with a request that they in turn get others of their acquaintance to complete the questionnaires. A total of 90 completed questionnaires were gathered in this way. "Friends and neighbors" samples have generally proved remarkably representative in the West (9, 11, 15), hence some confidence may be placed in the representativeness of the present data.

The sample was gathered roughly contemporaneously with a random sample of the entire Bombay conurbation (14) and both samples received the same questionnaire. Yet a third sample was also gathered for purposes of comparison: 100 Bombay residents with tertiary education. Because the cultural gap between the average Parsee and the average Indian is so vast, it was felt that in many ways the only valid comparison that could be made between Parsees and other Indians would be one involving only this "top" stratum of non-Parsee Bombay residents. As there is almost no social mobility in India, a sample of college-educated Bombay people is also thus a sample of the top people in Bombay generally. The third sample was gathered in conjunction with the Bombay random sample, by the simple expedient of oversampling in "better" areas of the city. There was, therefore, a slight overlap between the Bombay general sample and the Bombay educated samples; 15 people fell into both samples.

Details of the questionnaire have been given elsewhere (14) but scales of achievement motivation, interpersonal authoritarianism, social desirability, and neuroticism were included.

C. RESULTS

The reliabilities of the four scales were as follows: Directiveness (interpersonal authoritarianism) .41, "AO" (achievement orientation) .69, "N" scale (neuroticism) .49, Marlowe-Crowne (social desirability response set) .49: These are all very low levels of internal consistency and indicate that the suitability of these scales to the Parsees was very limited. All four scales were originally constructed for use with Anglo-Saxon samples, therefore the losses occurring in translation and in transfer to a third-world culture were to be expected. The results obtained on the present occasion can therefore be regarded as no more than suggestive. It is normally possible to cure failures of reliability to some extent by deleting items that show poor correlations with their scale total. This could not be done on the present occasion, however, because the "poor" items tended to differ from sample to sample. Particularly with the Directiveness scale, items that were "strong" in the Parsee sample tended to be "weak" in the general Bombay sample. Such differences were also observed between the general and the educated Bombay sample. The implication, then, is that dominance tends to be differently expressed in the three groups. Devising a scale of dominance or authoritarianism that would be equally valid for all Bombay residents would then require a very substantial project of its own.


TABLE 1
SCALE STATISTICS ON THREE INDIAN AND ONE AUSTRALIAN (12) SAMPLE

Scale.....................Parsees....Bombay random.....Bombay educated....Sydney random
..............................(n = 90)..........(n = 305)................(n = 100).................(n = 95)


Directiveness
.........Mean..............54.77............49.86........................52.05....................54.88
.........SD....................5.88..............6.20..........................6.83......................8.75
.........Alpha................ .41............... .50........................... .61....................... .79

Neuroticism
.........Mean..............13.21............12.86.........................11.80...................12.63
.........SD....................2.98..............3.55...........................3.49.....................3.57
.........Alpha................ .49............... .72............................ .67...................... .73

Social Desir.

.........Mean...............19.38...........18.32.........................18.51...................16.01
.........SD.....................2.88.............3.06...........................2.88.....................4.47
.........Alpha................. .49.............. .55............................ .34...................... .77


TABLE 2
SCORES ON THE 14-ITEM ACHIEVEMENT ORIENTATION SCALE WORLDWIDE (10, 13)

Sample........................n...........Mean...........SD......Alpha

Parsees.......................90.........33.96.........5.65...... .77
Bombay random .......305.........35.10.........4.33...... .58
Educated Bombay....100.........35.12.........4.27...... .54
Sydney..........................95.........31.44.........5.83...... .76
London........................100.........32.45.........5.71...... .73
Glasgow......................100.........31.33.........5.65...... .72
Los Angeles................101.........33.83..........5.27..... .72
Johannesburg.............100.........35.20..,.......4.74...... .67
Manila..........................100.........34.31.........4.33...... .56



The means of the four scales are given in Tables 1 and 2. The Parsees are the lowest on achievement motivation and the highest on authoritarian dominance. The ts for the contrast between the Parsees and the Bombay random sample are 6.66 (Directiveness), .85 (Neuroticism), and 2.03 (achievement motivation). The corresponding significance levels are <.01, n.s., <.05.

The scale enabling the most satisfactory international comparisons was the standard 14-item short form (10) of the "AO" scale. This form showed a reliability among the Parsees of .77. Table 2 therefore puts the Parsee mean on this scale in the context of all the previous means observed with this scale among general population samples. They occupy a middling position on achievement motivation and are in fact most similar to Californians.

The "AO" and Marlowe-Crowne scale correlated .413 among the Parsees. As the Parsees also had significantly higher scores on social desirability than other Bombay residents (t = 3.20), this must be taken as implying that the Parsee achievement motivation score was artifactually inflated above what it would actually be. Parsees were even less achievement motivated than appears at first sight.

D. DISCUSSION

The psychological study of the Parsees has served to confirm yet again the generalization that affluence is associated not with high achievement motivation but with high interpersonal authoritarianism (13, 14). Economically successful people in India tended to be dominant personalities. It was the poor masses who were ambitious. This is quite contrary to the influential theory of McClelland (8) who believes that high motivation to achievement goes with high actual economic achievement. It is, however, consonant with Hullian (2) drive reduction theory-which holds that deprivation increases motivation. Thus, in spite of the difficulties encountered in measuring the relevant attributes among Parsees, intelligible and consistent results have emerged.

The present results, therefore, also represent another illustration of the complex way in which attitudes, personality, and behavior are interrelated (3). It has been shown elsewhere (15) that achievement motivation may lead to dominant behavior. It has been shown here that the need to dominate may lead to economically achieving behavior. Simplistic notions of the motivation "matching" the behavior in some sense have long been known to be flawed (6). There is a relationship between motives and behavior, but it may not easily yield to investigation.

The finding that Parsees are exceptionally dominating in interpersonal relationships may perhaps fruitfully be related to their economic success via the sociobiological studies of dominance (1, 7). In animal species, the dominant member of the group is generally the most vigorous, strong, and physically fit member. As such he also gets first option of whatever food resources are available. Dominance and economic success are associated via exceptional physical attributes. General vigour is something that might reasonably be expected in those robust enough to escape an exterminating enemy (aside from the Parsees, there are now only about 14,000 Zoroastrians left in the world) and it is therefore possible to see it having a similar role among Parsees to that which it has among animal species. As a preliminary and very tentative hypothesis, then, we might perhaps see both the interpersonal dominance and the economic success of the Parsees as the outcome of generally greater physiological activation. Their low level of material ambition we could see as the outcome of a need for economic security that has already been fairly well satisfied -- at least in an Indian context. Satiation reduces drive in that particular direction.

While the above proposals tend towards the physiological, it is also, of course, possible that social factors could have a crucial role. Like most Indians, Parsees are very religious by Western standards and influences from the religion could therefore very easily flow into the approach taken towards the economic challenges of life. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion complete with a force of evil (Ahriman) opposing the Deity (Ahura Mazda) and the religion is very strongly concerned with the struggle between the forces of light and darkness. That an acceptance of the need for struggle could lead to economic enterprise is therefore easy to see. That the Parsees struggle with fate, whereas the average Indian submits with resignation is, however, consistent both with the present findings and with what is commonly observed about India.

REFERENCES

1. BURNET, Sir F. M. Dominant Mammal. Sydney, Australia: Heinemann, 1970.

2. HULL, C. L. A Behavior System. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1952.

3. KELMAN, H. C. Attitudes are alive and well and grainfully employed in the sphere of action. Amer. Psychol., 1974, 29, 310-324.

4. KULKE, E. The Parsees in India: A Minority as Agent of Social Change. New Delhi, India: Vikas, 1978.

5. LALA, R. M. The Creation of Wealth. Bombay, India: I.B.H., 1981.

6. LA PIERE, R. Attitudes and actions. Social Forces, 1934, 13, 230-237.

7. LORENZ, K. On aggression. London: Methuen, 1966.

8. McCLELLAND, D. C. The Achieving Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand, 1961.

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

10. RAY, J.J. (1979) A quick measure of achievement motivation -- validated in Australia and reliable in Britain and South Africa. Australian Psychologist 14, 337-344.

11. RAY, J.J. (1981) Authoritarianism, dominance and assertiveness. Journal of Personality Assessment 45, 390-397.

12. RAY, J.J. (1981) Do authoritarian attitudes or authoritarian personality reflect mental illness? S. African J. Psychology 11, 153-157.

13. RAY, J.J. (1981) Achievement motivation and authoritarianism in Manila and some Anglo-Saxon cities. J. Social Psychology 115, 3-8.

14. RAY, J.J. (1982) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in India. J. Social Psychology 117, 171-182.

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

16. SCHERMER, R. A. Parsis and Jews in India -- tentative comparison. In T. S. Kang (Ed.), Nationalism and the Crises of Ethnic Minorities in Asia. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979.




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