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South African J. Psychology 1992, 22, 178-179.


J.J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia


Three papers that appeared in the December 1991 issue of The South African Journal of Psychology are criticized on the grounds that they define and measure authoritarianism in uncritical ways. When one looks more carefully at what was measured, the findings become quite different from what their authors proposed and are almost true-by-definition.

In a recent special issue of the South African Journal of Psychology there appeared three articles concerning the relationship between authoritarianism and racial prejudice. It is submitted here that all three draw misleading conclusions because of the way they define and measure "authoritarianism".

Ray has on many occasions in the last 20 years (e.g. Ray, 1971) argued that the definition of "authoritarianism" originally proposed by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) embodies assumptions that are counter-factual. He has instead proposed a narrower definition of "authoritarianism" that he has embodied in his "Directiveness" scale (Ray, 1976) and which could be briefly summarized as "aggressive dominance".

Duckitt & Foster (1991) baldly describe it as "a faulty assumption" that the Ray Directiveness scale measures authoritarianism. Since the Directiveness scale has been validated many times (Ray, 1976; Heaven, 1984; Rigby, 1984; Ohja & Singh, 1987) what they are asserting appears to be that the Directiveness scale does not measure the construct first proposed by Adorno et al. (1950). Since it was never intended to, however, that is hardly surprising. What is surprising is that Duckitt & Foster still appear to find the Adorno concept attractive. How, for a start, do they deal with the fact that authoritarian attitudes in the Adorno sense do not predict authoritarian behaviour (Titus & Hollander, 1957; Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983; Sutherland & Tanenbaum, 1980)? Adorno et al. believed that authoritarian attitudes explained authoritarian behaviour of many kinds -- including both submissive and dominant behaviour. If the attitudes and behaviour are not even correlated, is it not time to re-examine the assumptions involved? May we not have to define the behaviour more narrowly if we want to predict it? Or are we behavioural scientists not after all interested in behaviour? A slavish acceptance of the Adorno definition is really quite difficult to understand.

None of this is to say that authoritarianism in the Adorno sense has no correlates but both Altemeyer (1981) and Ray (1988) have shown that such correlates can be explained in ways much more parsimonious than the ways proposed by Adorno et al. It is surely superfluous, however, to go over again here the ground covered by these two large literature reviews. That would surely only be appropriate if there had appeared in the literature any attempt to refute the arguments presented in the reviews concerned.

So what does the Adorno F scale measure if it does not measure authoritarianism? Ray (1990) has recently set out at great length the grounds for his proposal that it simply measures an old-fashioned orientation so readers interested in the question will find the arguments summarized there. It seems of interest, however, to see how the alternative explanation works when applied to the findings presented by Meloen (1991). Meloen presented findings which he interprets as showing that anti-authoritarians in the Netherlands are more likely to be political activists. As he used a derivative of the F scale to measure authoritarianism, this sounds like real validation for the scale. If however, the F-scale simply measures an old-fashioned orientations, all Meloen has shown is that political demonstrations and the like are modern -- they have been much more common or more sanctioned in the last few decades than they once were. This is very unsurprising and is not really new information about anything.

Altemeyer & Kamenshikov (1991) use a different measure of "authoritarianism" (the RWA scale) but are also uncritical about what their scale measures. They admit that it is "curious" that their scale shows BOTH old-guard Russian communists and American anti-Communists to be Right-wing authoritarians but seem not to dream that the scale they use could be invalid. Surely they have in fact PROVED that it is invalid. Or are Communists Rightists? Black might as well be white.

It has been shown that the RWA scale correlates exceedingly highly with orthodox measures of conservatism (Ray, 1985) so clearly what has happened is that the RWA scale is just another measure of conservatism -- i.e. opposition to change. Naturally Russian Communists oppose change in Russia because the change concerned is away from Communism. Equally American Rightists generally oppose change in the USA because American society is in general already the capitalist society that they believe in. So what looked like a highly curious finding to Altemeyer & Kamenshikov was really a discovery of the perfectly obvious.

The moral of the story appears to be that those who would measure authoritarianism need to exercise more care in checking what it is that they are really measuring.


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

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

Altemeyer, R. & Kamenshikov, A. (1991) Impressions of American and Soviet behaviour: RWA changes in a mirror. South African J. Psychology 21, 255-260.

Duckitt, J.H. & Foster, D. (1991) Introduction to the special issue: Race, social asttitudes and prejudice. South African J. Psychology 21, 199-202.

Heaven, P.C.L.(1984) Predicting authoritarian behaviour: Analysis of three measures. Personality & Indiv. Diffs. 5, 251-253.

Meloen, J.D. (1991) Anti-authoritarianism and political activism. South African J. Psychology 21, 261-266.

Ohja, H. & Singh, Rajiv R. (1987) Directiveness scale in Hindi. Indian Psychological Review 32(5-6), 50-52.

Ray, J.J. (1971) An "Attitude to Authority" scale. Australian Psychologist, 6, 31-50.

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

Ray, J.J. (1985) Defective validity in the Altemeyer authoritarianism scale. Journal of Social Psychology 125, 271-272.

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

Ray, J.J. (1990) The old-fashioned personality. Human Relations, 43, 997-1015.

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

Rigby, K. (1984) Acceptance of authority and directiveness as indicators of authoritarianism: A new framework. J. Social Psychology 122, 171-180.

Sutherland, S.L. & Tanenbaum, E.J. (1980) Submissive authoritarians: Need we fear the fearful toadie? Canadian Rev. Sociology & Anthropology 17, 1-23.

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.

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