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This article was written in 1988 for the academic journals but was not accepted for publication


J.J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia


B.J. Miller

James Cook University of N. Queensland, Australia


Although it is commonly held that a person's attitude to one ethnic outgroup will be highly predictive of their attitude towards other ethnic outgroups, there is some suggestion that this is true only among highly educated samples. An Australian general population sample (N = 250) was therefore administered four social distance scales: to measure attitudes to Southern Europeans, blacks, English immigrants and Asians. Only moderate intercorrelations were in general found and allowance for acquiescent tendency reduced these still further. It is concluded that knowledge in this field will only advance with the aid of greater attention to methodological considerations.


Ever since Adorno et al (1950) demonstrated extremely high correlations between attitudes to various ethnic outgroups it seems generally to have been accepted that prejudice is fairly monolithic. To know a man's attitude to blacks (for instance) is also to know his attitude to Jews. Those who dislike blacks will also dislike Jews and so on.

Ray, however, has questioned the conventional wisdom in this respect. Ray (1974 Ch. 46) asked whether or not racists are ethnocentric. This might seem like an ignorance of definitions but the point of the paper was that Ray was able to show that ingroup chauvinism or patriotism did not predict attitudes to ethnic outgroups among samples drawn from the community at large (as distinct from samples of students). Ray did his initial research in Australia but later work showed that the same was to be found in a British community survey (Ray & Furnham, 1984). It seems clear, then, that ingroup and outgroup attitudes are not related. This has also been confirmed in experimental studies of small groups (Turner, 1978, p.249).

Such a lack of relationship does not however preclude relationships between attitudes to different outgroups. What Ray found in that connection was less clearcut. He found (Ray, 1974 Ch. 46) that there was a moderate degree of relationship between attitudes to some ethnic groups but that attitude to Aborigines (Australian native blacks, more comparable to American "Indians" than to American blacks) tended to be almost orthogonal to attitudes to other groups. Instead of correlations in the region of .90 (as reported by Adorno et al, 1950) correlations between attitude to Aborigines and other groups were as low as .291.

So how are such deviant results to be explained? Ray himself favoured the view that his use of community rather than student samples was the crucial difference and a recent American general population finding by Sniderman, Brody & Kuklinski (1984) may support that. These authors studied what is often held to be a common correlate of racism: political conservatism. What they found was that conservatism and racism correlated not at all among Americans with only basic education but correlated highly among college-educated Americans. If the education level of the sample was critical to the correlates of ethnic attitudes on that occasion, it seems reasonable to suppose that it could be critical on other occasions too. Since most published psychological research on racism uses college student subjects, however, we are very limited in what we can so far conclude here (Sears, 1986). The research reported below may go some way towards filling out our knowledge of what is the case among the general population.


The present survey was also carried out in Australia, in the city of Cairns. As Cairns is an important tropical tourist destination it is very cosmopolitan and its inhabitants would generally have had contact with all sorts of ethnic groups. The sample was selected at random from voter registration records. As voter registration is compulsory in Australia, this gave an unusually comprehensive sampling frame. With the aid of several call-backs, over 60% of the sample initially chosen were eventually interviewed. A total of 200 interviews were carried out by the junior author personally with a further 50 being carried out by trained assistants.

The questionnaire used contained Bogardus-type scales to measure social distance towards four groups: Southern European immigrants (Italians and Greeks), Aborigines, English immigrants and Asian immigrants. The most recent versions of the racial attitude scales are to be found here. The scales were administered in a Likert-type format with six response options per item.


As the social distance scales were administered in a Likert-type format, it is appropriate to score them as Likert scales. When this was done the scale reliabilities (alpha) were found to be as follows: Southern Europeans .896, Aborigines .938, English immigrants .937 and Asians .942. Such reliabilities are, of course, highly satisfactory.

The correlations between the scales were as in Table 1.

Table 1

Pearson product-moment correlations between attitudes to four different minorities. N = 250.

............ Aborigines ....... English ........ Asians

S. Euro...... .418 .............. .385 ........... .462
Abor................................. .332 .......... .614
Engl. .................................................... .452


It is clear that although the correlations observed are healthy, the very high correlations reported by Adorno et al were not replicated. The use of a community sample does indeed seem to result in only moderate correlations between attitudes to at least some ethnic groups.

One question-mark that hangs over the present results is the role of acquiescent tendency. Social distance scales, although widely used, are not in any sense "balanced" (i.e. they do not contain both "for" and "against" items). Ray (1983 & 1985) has presented considerable evidence in favour of the now sometimes neglected view that much correlation between scales can be due to their common one-way-worded format so the present correlations should be regarded as maxima rather than as fully accurate.

Can we correct the correlations for acquiescence effects in any way? We certainly cannot do so with any certainty but a finding by Heaven (1983) is thought-provoking. Heaven showed that a correlation of .324 was found between a balanced scale of attitude to blacks and a measure of acquiescent tendency. This suggests that acquiescent tendency alone is an important predictor of racism. It might therefore be a rough guide to how the present results would have looked in the absence of acquiescent tendency to subtract .324 (Heaven's finding) from each correlation coefficient in Table 1. It is obvious that only one correlation would remain substantial if this were done. There would still be a relationship between attitude to Asians and attitude to Aborigines but the other five coefficients would be negligible.

The fact that the correlation between attitude to Aborigines and attitude to Asians seems to persist may have something to do with these two groups both having an obvious physical difference in appearance from other Australians. That aside, however, the overall picture would then (after allowing for acquiescent tendency) be one of virtual orthogonality between attitudes to different ethnic groups. As such a picture diverges so greatly from what has long been held, it serves to confirm once again the importance of methodological considerations in this area. If knowledge is to be advanced, both sample type and scale type may in future have to be varied systematically.


Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality New York: Harper.

Heaven, P.C.L. (1983) Authoritarianism or acquiescence? South African findings. J. Social Psychol. 119, 11-15.

Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

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. & Furnham, A. (1984) Authoritarianism, conservatism and racism. Ethnic & Racial Studies 7, 406-412.

Sears, D.O. (1986) College sophomores in the laboratory -- Influences of a narrow data-base on social psychology's view of human nature. J. Personality & Social Psychology 51, 515-530.

Sniderman, P.M., Brody, R.A. & Kuklinski, J.H. (1984) Policy reasoning and political values: The problem of racial equality. Amer. J. Polit. Science 28, 75-94.

Turner, J.C. (1978) Social categorization and social discrimination in the minimal group paradigm. In: H. Tajfel (Ed.) Differentiation between social groups: Studies in the social psychology of intergroup relations European Monographs in Social Psychology, No. 14. London: Academic.

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