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Political Psychology, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1990. pp. 441-444.

POLITICS AND COGNITIVE STYLE: A REJOINDER TO SIDANIUS AND WARD



Dr. John J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

My paper (Ray, 1988) on the supposed political implications of cognitive style seems to have touched a raw nerve. Not only has Sidanius (1988) written a rather hysterical rejoinder to my dissection of his work (he accuses me of "criminal negligence"), but Ward (1988) has also weighed in with other criticisms of my paper. It seems appropriate to make some rejoinder to both writers.

For a start, both writers are correct in saying that I did not deal with the whole of Sidanius's paper. I could see no need to. I was concerned with the extent to which Sidanius's work supported the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno et al. (1950) and it was only the part of Sidanius's work relevant to that which I examined. I therefore gave a quote from Sidanius (1985) which showed Sidanius as believing that his findings supported authoritarian personality theory and I then went on to show that his findings did no such thing. Sidanius (1988) objects to my saying that he supports the Adorno theory, but in his third full paragraph (1988, p. 310) he again in fact gives such support! Confused?

At any event, I simply wish to support Ward (1988) in his conclusion that the Sidanius work is flawed by its reliance on the unreliable and invalid Budner scale. Who could take seriously a scale wherein the positively and negatively scored items failed to correlate significantly with one another? At least one-half of the scale is not measuring what it purports to measure! Since the Budner scale has been widely used by other authors in this field, this condemnation of the Budner scale does, of course, have adverse implications for our evaluation of many studies other than Sidanius's.

Surely Ward goes too far, however, in inferring from this that the Adorno et al., (1950) theory has just not been tested as yet. Authoritarian personality theory must be the most tested theory there is in the whole field of political psychology. There have been thousands of papers on various aspects of it. When do we stop concluding that more testing is needed? Surely the difficulties that emerge whenever we attempt to test the theory tell us something about the quality of the assumptions that underlie the theory. One such assumption is of course that cognitive style is highly generalizable. Brown (1965, p. 506) showed that Adorno et al., (1950) used the terms "rigidity" and "intolerance of ambiguity" interchangeably and "cognitive complexity" was clearly another one of that set. Thus the charge by Ward that I misquote Hageseth (1983), because Hageseth studied cognitive complexity only, fails to recognize the vast generality of what Adorno et al., proposed.

Sidanius (1988) also recognizes that any assumption of generality for intolerance of ambiguity cannot be sustained. Why then does he continue to write as if there were such a thing? If every collection of apples turned out to consist of oranges, lemons, melons, and pears, would not that cause us to doubt the existence of apples? Sidanius obviously has faith.

My suggestion is that cognitive style variables are situation-specific. A person may (for instance) be "rigid" in one setting but not in others. A very good example of this emerged some years ago when I endeavored to re-check the Adorno et al. finding that nonauthoritarians are cognitively complex (Ray, 1972). I used an adaptation of the Kelley repertory grid to measure complexity. I found that it was non-authoritarians who had the simplest cognitive structure! Why? Because my adaptation of the Kelley grid was to use authority-related stimuli for the subjects to rate. In other words, authoritarians were most complex when rating authority-related things. In short, authoritarians may be simple or complex, depending on (among other things) how relevant to them they see the task as being. Complexity is situation-specific. It is not a trait.

This view of cognitive complexity and intolerance of ambiguity also helps us to understand why Sidanius got the results of which he is so proud (the ones that he refers to in block capitals which are said by him to show me as making statements that are FLATLY INACCURATE). I pointed out that two of his ad hoc measures of complexity did not correlate with the Budner scale (i.e., the total score on the Budner scale). Sidanius (19$8) however, seems to think that by this I mean that no Budner item correlated with his two measures. Since the Budner scale is so chaotic and internally inconsistent, however, Sidanius's inference there is not clearly thought out. It is in fact perfectly easy for a scale such as Budner's to have items with correlates different from those of the scale overall. If you use a large correlation matrix (which Sidanius does) you are fairly likely to find some correlations with your criterion by chance alone and when cognitive complexity of response is as unpredictable as I have shown it to be, the way is shown to be very much open for such chance events to emerge. In other words, because all the items of the Budner scale measure different things, the way is open for Sidanius to have a "lucky hit" and find two or three items which do correlate as he would wish. To describe statements made by me about the total scale as FLATLY INACCURATE because some of the scale items have different correlations from the total scale seems only, however, to reflect a drowning man clutching at straws.

Sidanius (1988) quotes a large number of studies which have shown the Budner scale to have correlates that seem in accord with the theory behind it. Surely not all these correlations can be "lucky hits!" They are not. As I pointed out in the paper (Ray, 1988a) that Sidanius is responding to, the Budner scale does seem to be a weak measure of intelligence. It may not measure intolerance of ambiguity, but the items keyed as "tolerant" tend to be ones that more intelligent people would agree with. It is presumably this component of intelligence in the total scale score which gives the correlations observed.

Sidanius is also erroneous in thinking that internal consistency tells nothing about test-retest reliability. As I have recently dealt with this question at some length elsewhere (Ray, 1988b) I do not wish to go over the same ground again here. I will therefore content myself with observing that repeatability over time can be quite trivial. I might, for instance, put together a set of unrelated items that dealt with much-discussed issues. Because they are much discussed issues, the answers that people give to the items should be well-considered and therefore readily repeated with great consistency from occasion to occasion. Adding up these highly consistent answers would give us a quite meaningless "scale" that nonetheless had high test-retest reliability. It is for this and other reasons that Nunnally (1967) argues for coefficient "alpha" as the best measure of reliability.

Finally, I wish to turn to Ward's (1988) criticism of the way I dismissed the work of Altemeyer (1981) in Ray (1984). Most of his criticisms seem to stem from his failure to look at what I was trying to do in that paper. As the title of the paper plainly stated, the paper was intended as a "Catalog" of scales to measure authoritarianism. To give a full review of each scale would have been a book-length enterprise. As it was, a "catalog" seemed to require only brief summary notations on each scale. I will not argue with Ward whether Altemeyer's review of only 6 (out of 37) authoritarianism scales warrants a description of Altemeyer's work as "sketchy." Readers will no doubt judge that for themselves. Ward does however overlook another reason for calling Altemeyer's work "sketchy." That is that Altemeyer's literature review stops almost dead after about 1972 (despite the 1981 publication date). There has been an awful lot written since 1972! Ward (1988) also criticizes me for saying that the Altemeyer scale is unsophisticated and undistinguishable from a conservatism scale. It is true that in a catalog I did not have the opportunity to substantiate these comments fully. If Ward is interested in a full substantiation of them, however, he can find it in Ray (1987).

REFERENCES

Adorno, T. W. Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., and Sanford, R. N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality, Harper, New York.

Altemeyer, R. A. (1981). Right-Wing Authoritarianism, Univ. Manitoba Press, Winnipeg. Brown, R. (1965). Social Psychology, Free Press, New York.

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

Nunnally, J. C. (1967). Psychometric Theory, McGraw Hill, New York.

Ray, J.J. (1972) Non-ethnocentric authoritarianism. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 8(June), 96-102.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Alternatives to the F scale in the measurement of authoritarianism: A catalog. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 105-119.

Ray, J.J. (1987) Special review of "Right-wing authoritarianism" by R.A. Altemeyer. Personality & Individual Differences 8, 771-772.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Cognitive style as a predictor of authoritarianism, conservatism and racism: A fantasy in many movements. Political Psychology 9, 303-308.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Semantic overlap between scale items may be a good thing: Reply to Smedslund. Scandinavian J. Psychology 29, 145-147.

Sidanius, J. (1985). Cognitive functioning and sociopolitical ideology revisited. Polit. Psychol. 6: 637-662.

Sidanius, J. (1988). Intolerance of ambiguity, conservatism and racism: whose fantasy, whose reality?: A reply to Ray. Polit. Psychol. 9: 309-316.

Ward, D. (1988). A critics defence of the criticized. Polit. Psychol. 9: 317-320.

POST-PUBLICATION ADDENDUM

A demolition of the latest Sidanius ideas about conservatism can be found as under:

Social dominance orientation: Theory or artifact?




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