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European Sociological Review 1991, 7, 73-75.


J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W., Australia


Scheepers, Felling and Peters have rediscovered the amazing fact that the California F scale predicts racism. They essentially accept the explanation for this given by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950). They seem totally oblivious to the vast amount of research and writing over nearly 40 years that has questioned this explanation. The present paper attempts to point out briefly what these authors have ignored.

A Dutch Problem?

The recent paper by Scheepers, Felling and Peters (1990) in this journal represents yet another example of contemporary Dutch scholars (Cf. Meloen et al., 1988 and Van Ijzendoorn, 1989) seeming to find great inspiration in the old Adorno et al. (1950) theory that racism is caused by "authoritarianism" as measured by the California F scale.

Reinventing the wheel

As Scheepers et al. themselves note, their finding that the F scale predicts responses on scales purporting to measure racial antagonism has been replicated many times over the years in many countries. Why it was necessary to demonstrate it again is therefore something of a mystery. Even in studies where the usual methodological criticisms of the Adorno et al work are allowed for (e.g. Ray, 1980) the same relationship always seems to emerge.

Yet this relationship is essentially all that Scheepers et al. have to report. They did attempt to find other predictors of racism but, as they admit, with negligible success. Their paper is, then, essentially a case of reinventing the wheel.

The Real Debate

They seem unaware that the real debate as far as "authoritarianism" is concerned centres on why the F scale predicts racism. Scheepers et al. essentially accept the explanation given by Adorno et al. but this ignores the vast body of work which has questioned the Adorno et al. theory from Christie & Jahoda (1954) onwards. See, as just a few instances, Titus & Hollander (1957); Rokeach, (1960); Titus (1968); McKinney (1973); Ray (1976); Ray & Lovejoy (1983). Altemeyer (1981) has summarized the literature on this up to about 1972 at great length so I will content myself here by summarizing the findings concerned as showing that the F scale does not predict authoritarian behaviour or much else at all that is not either a pencil-and-paper measure or something that is artifactually related to the F scale. The F scale, therefore, has very little claim to be measuring any sort of personality (if we conceive personality as consisting of a tendency towards particular types of behaviour).

Some Recent Work

Perhaps, however, we could also look at some work more recent than that summarized by Altemeyer (1981):

In his Social Psychology textbook, Brown (1986) summarizes the results of the research on group identification and much else as showing that ethnocentrism and stereotyping are "universal, ineradicable psychological processes". This could hardly be a greater contrast with the Adorno et al. proposition that ethnocentrism is deviant and an outcome of adverse early childhood experiences with the father.

Rigby & Rump (1981) showed that the relationship between a person's attitude to his/her parents and attitude to community authorities exists only during early adolescence and vanishes entirely by late adolescence. Adorno et al. of course claimed that one's attitude to authority was influenced lifelong by attitude to one's own parents.

Variations in degree of racism have been shown to be unrelated to type of upbringing (Sidanius et al., 1986).

Punitiveness is highly multidimensional. Adorno et al. claim that it is so unidimensional that those who secretly want to punish their fathers will also thereby want to punish ethnic outgroups. In fact, types of punitiveness which should correlate highly according to the Adorno account of things correlate very little (Ray, 1985).

Rigidity is highly multidimensional. Adorno et al. thought that rigidity of quite unrelated tasks would be highly correlated. Perceptual rigidity, for instance, would predict rigid behaviour. In fact, even measures of what might seem fairly similar types of rigidity turn out to have very little relationship (Widiger, Knudson & Rorer, 1980; Goldsmith & Nugent, 1984; Stewin, 1983; Brown, 1965, p. 509; Kline & Cooper, 1985; Hageseth, 1983; Walton, 1982; O'Keefe & Sypher, 1981).

Adorno et al. claimed that authoritarians were essentially Rightists and that both had harsh childhoods and suffer from deviant or "sick" personalities. Peterson (1990) shows in an extensive series of studies that Republican voters (in the U.S.A.) and conservatives generally seem to be life's favoured people. For instance, they have a greater sense of personal efficacy, are in better health, tend to have suffered less child abuse and are more satisfied with their jobs. Ray (1987) also showed that conservatives are the ones who tend to believe in the power of love.

Theory Scientifically Untenable

One could go on but surely enough has by now been said to show that continued acceptance of the Adorno theory is scientifically untenable. Scheepers et al. accept the Adorno theory as an explanation for the relationship between the F scale and racism scales only by way of ignoring almost 40 years of research on the subject. It would be hard to imagine a larger omission.

Results that Support the Adorno Theory

"But not all the studies with the F scale have produced results unfavourable to the Adorno et al. theory!" someone will want to protest at this stage. That is certainly true. Most studies with the F scale have assumed its basic validity and have not tested it one way or the other. Others have obtained results that are highly unfavourable to the theory but have endeavoured to explain them in a way favourable to the theory. Altemeyer (1981) has done a generally good job of showing that the various "confirmations" of the Adorno et al. theory are no such confirmation at all and Ray (1989) has shown at length how many studies presented as confirmation for the Adorno theory need most amazing mental gymnastics to come to that conclusion.

So what is the explanation for the correlation between the F scale and measures of racist attitudes? If the Adorno et al. explanation cannot be accepted, is there an alternative explanation? There is, but since I have recently written at considerable length on that topic, I will simply refer readers elsewhere (Ray, 1988).


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.

Brown, R.(1965) Social psychology N.Y.: Free Press.

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

Christie, R. & Jahoda, M. (1954) Studies in the scope and method of "The authoritarian personality" Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Goldsmith, R.E. & Nugent, N. (1984) Innovativeness and cognitive complexity: A second look. Psychological Reports 55, 431-438.

Hageseth, J.A. (1983) Relationships between cognitive complexity variables. Psychological Reports 52, 473-474.

Kline, P. & Cooper, C. (1985) Rigid personality and rigid thinking. British J. Educ. Psychol. 55, 24-27.

McKinney, D.W. (1973) The authoritarian personality studies The Hague: Mouton.

Meloen, J.D., Hagendoorn, L., Raaijmakers, Q. & Visser, L. (1988) Authoritarianism and the revival of political racism: Reassessment in the Netherlands of the reliability and validity of the concept of authoritarianism by Adorno et al Political Psychology 9, 413-429.

Peterson, S.A. (1990) Political Behavior: Patterns in Everyday Life Newberry Park: Sage.

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

Ray, J.J. (1980) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

Ray, J.J. (1985) The punitive personality. Journal of Social Psychology 125, 329-334.

Ray, J.J. (1987) Conservatism and attitude to love: An empirical rebuttal of Eisler & Loye. Personality & Individual Differences, 8, 731-732.

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

Ray, J.J. (1989) The scientific study of ideology is too often more ideological than scientific. Personality & Individual Differences, 10, 331-336.

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. & Rump, E.E. (1981) Attitudes towards parents and institutional authorities during adolescence. J. of Psychol. 109, 109-118.

Rokeach, M. (1960) The open and closed mind N.Y.: Basic Books.

Scheepers, P., Felling, A. & Peters, J. (1990) Social conditions, authoritarianism and ethnocentrism: A theoretical model of the early Frankfurt School updated and tested. European Sociological Review 6, 15-29.

Sidanius, J., Ekehammar, B. & Brewer, R.M. (1986) The political socialization determinants of higher order sociopolitical space: A Swedish example. J. Social Psychol. 126, 7-22.

Stewin, L. (1983) The concept of rigidity: An enigma. Internat. J. for the Advancement of Counselling 6, 227-232.

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.

Van Ijzendoorn, M.H. (1989) Moral judgment, authoritarianism and ethnocentrism. J. Social Psychology 129, 37-45.

Widiger, T.A.; Knudson, R.M. & Rorer, L.G. (1980) Convergent and discriminant validity of measures of cognitive styles and abilities. J. Personality & Social Psychology 39, 116-129.

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