This article was written for the academic journals in 1990 but was not accepted for publication. It was one of several articles written in 1990 to see if more outspoken articles would be accepted. None were
SELF-DECEPTION AMONG PSYCHOLOGISTS
University of N.S.W., Australia
In a recent issue of The Skeptical Inquirer (a journal devoted to exposing "magicians", "psychics" and the like) several authors (e.g. Randi, 1989) discussed the phenomenon of spurious findings in science. Randi commented on the amazing "mental flexibility" that individual scientists can show in resisting demonstrations that their findings are spurious. I wonder if many psychologists are aware that such "flexibility" (the ability not to let any evidence interfere with a belief) is a mass phenomenon among modern-day academic psychologists too? I refer here not to fringe cults such as Freudian psychoanalysis but to the modern-day successors of the behaviorists -- i.e. mainstream scholars who pride themselves on exercising strict scientific rigour.
The clearest example of such flexibility is the continued acceptance among psychologists of the "authoritarian personality" theory originated by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950). This theory contends that racial antagonisms are caused by one's personality and that a person with negative attitudes towards any ethnic group has an "authoritarian" personality. This personality is said to be politically conservative, rigid, intolerant of ambiguity, hostile, conventional, punitive, servile and a whole host of other negative attributes all of which go together and stem from adverse experiences with the father during childhood. In a word, racists are "sick".
It is hard to know where to start in dealing with the multiple nonsense in this theory but perhaps it may be of greatest interest to allude briefly to the political aspect.
Under the theory conservatives are said to be characteristically racist and authoritarian while Leftists are neither. This absurdity was so towering that it was almost immediately pointed out. Writing in Christie & Jahoda (1954) the sociologist Shils noted that authoritarian governments in the world were at least as likely to be Leftist (Communist) as Rightist. Authoritarianism was anything but the preserve of the Right. The theory was a major mismatch with known data -- a mismatch so gross as to disqualify it (one would think) from normal academic publication. Published it was, however.
The second leg of the Adorno et al (1950) claim regarding conservatives proved more durable, however. There has always seemed to be to be mountains of evidence to confirm that conservatives are more racist, at least in expressed attitudes. It turns out, however, that this evidence is dependant on a number of distortions -- chief of which is the almost overwhelming tendency among social psychologists to draw their data either from the responses of their own students or of other well-educated groups (Sears, 1986).
Sniderman, Brody & Kuklinski (1984) showed this most clearly in a study of expressed racial attitudes among an American general population sample. These authors found that the association between conservatism and ethnic negativism was strong only among college-educated respondents. Among those with only basic education the association was non-existent. The association, therefore, is most parsimoniously seen as the outcome of the "liberal consensus" among American teachers at both the secondary and tertiary levels. Teachers tend to be both Left-leaning and vocally anti-racist so the two variables become associated as part of the learning process. Combining a liberal orientation and an anti-racist stance is a mark of one's acculturation to the educational system and most students do acculturate to some degree. This was confirmed in other general population surveys where negligible associations were found between racial attitudes and conservatism -- e.g. Williams & Wright (1955); Ray & Furnham, (1984) and Ray & Lovejoy (1986).
I could go on to debunk the theory at greater length but I think that enough has been said so far to demonstrate the fallacious nature of the theory. The main point, in fact, is that such debunking has been frequent and savage in the literature of academic psychology (e.g. Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Titus & Hollander, 1957; Rokeach, 1960, Brown, 1965; Titus, 1968; McKinney, 1973; Ray, 1976; Altemeyer, 1981; Ray, 1988a & 1989) BUT PSYCHOLOGISTS GENERALLY STILL SEEM TO BELIEVE IT! It is still often referred to and most references to it in the literature of psychology seem to be acceptant of it, or even vigorously and vocally applauding of it (e.g. Browning, 1983; Meloen, Hagendoorn, Raaijmakers & Visser, 1988; Van Ijzendoorn, 1989; Jemmott & Gonzalez, 1989; Fisher et al, 1988; Mercer & Kohn, 1980; Sidanius, 1985; Kelley, 1985)!
This has meant that for me it has become something of a cottage industry to write critiques of such ignorant articles. To their credit, about 50% of editors (though not editors of the most prestigious journals) do print my critiques. See e.g. Ray (1987a & b). Although I tend to be fairly savage in my critiques (I even accused one writer of being "intolerant of ambiguity") the hurt and upset I probably cause does not always seem to be enough to dislodge belief. For instance, fully 17 years ago I wrote (Ray, 1972) a fairly stinging attack on the sloppiness of one William Eckhardt in his research into the Adorno theory. Yet, lo and behold, in 1988, we have him bobbing up (Eckhardt, 1988) yet again with further ill-informed defenses of the theory! See Ray (1988b).
For at least some psychologists, when it comes to a contest between hard data and wishful thinking it is no contest at all. Wishful thinking wins hands down in its ability to inspire belief. Myrdal (1957) once said: "Ignorance is seldom random but instead highly opportunistic" (p. 123). In other words, the ignorance of the limitations of the Adorno work which psychologists often show should be seen as motivated. Psychologists, on Myrdal's view, must want not to hear criticisms of the Adorno work.
But why do psychologists want the Adorno theory to be true? It could not be more simple. As any psychologist knows and all the surveys show (e.g. McClintock, Spaulding & Turner, 1965), psychologists are not often extremely Leftist but they are fairly reliably Leftist. There is the odd Rightist psychologist but Leftist beliefs are by far the norm. And who was Theodor Adorno, the leading author of the "authoritarianism" theory? He was a prominent and well-known Marxist theoretician! Psychologists want the theory to be true because it goes overboard to be kind to Leftists. They have allowed themselves to be conned by what is little more than Communist propaganda. I can see no other way to describe the Adorno theory. Because it tells psychologists that they, as Leftists, are sound and sane and healthy whereas conservatives are sick deviants the theory has to be true!
The moral of the story? I am afraid it has to be that a reasonable man could not at the present time rely on the intellectual honesty of any psychologist. As I am a psychologist, that riles me. Psychologists as expert witnesses in courtrooms are certainly a very sick joke.
Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950) The authoritarian personality. N.Y.: Harper.
Altemeyer, R. (1981)Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: Univ. Manitoba Press. Brown, R.(1965) Social psychology N.Y.: Free Press.
Browning, D. (1983) Aspects of authoritarian attitudes in ego development. J. Pers. Social Psychol. 45, 137-144.
Christie, R. & Jahoda, M. (1954) Studies in the scope and method of "The authoritarian personality" Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.
Eckhardt, W. (1988) Comments on Ray's "Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review". Political Psychology 9, 680-693.
Fisher, W.A.; Byrne, D.; White, L.A. & Kelley, K. (1988) Erotophobia -erotophilia as a dimension of personality. J. Sex Research 25, 123-151.
Jemmott, J.B. & Gonzalez, E. (1989) Authoritarianism, knowledge of AIDS and affect toward persons with AIDS: Implications for health education. J. Applied Social Psychology 19, 584-598.
Kelley, K. (1985) Sex, sex-guilt and authoritarianism: Differences in response to explicit heterosexual and masturbatory styles. J. Sex Research 21, 68-85.
McClintock, C.G., Spaulding, C.B. & Turner, H.A. (1965) Political orientations of academically affiliated psychologists. Amer. Psychologist 20, 211-221.
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.
Mercer, G.W. & Kohn, P.M. (1980) Child-rearing factors, authoritarianism, drug-use attitudes and adolescent drug use: A model. J. Genetic Psychology 136, 159-171.
Randi, J. (1989) The case of the remembering water. Skeptical Inquirer 13, 142-145.
Ray, J.J. (1972) Militarism, authoritarianism, neuroticism and anti-social behavior. Journal of Conflict Resolution 16, 319-340.
Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.
Ray, J.J. (1987a) Complex jobs and complex mental processes: A comment on Miller, Slomczynski Kohn. American J. Sociology 93, 441-442.
Ray, J.J. (1987b) Intolerance of ambiguity among psychologists: A comment on Maier & Lavrakas. Sex Roles 16, 559-562.
Ray, J.J. (1988a) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.
Ray, J.J. (1988b) Authoritarianism, racism and anarchocapitalism: A rejoinder to Eckhardt. Political Psychology 9(4), 693-699.
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. & Furnham, A. (1984) Authoritarianism, conservatism and racism. Ethnic & Racial Studies 7, 406-412.
Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1986). The generality of racial prejudice. Journal of Social Psychology, 126, 563-564.
Rokeach, M. (1960) The open and closed mind N.Y.: Basic Books.
Sidanius, J. (1985) Cognitive functioning and sociopolitical ideology revisited. Political Psychol. 6, 637-662.
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.
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.
Williams, R.J. & Wright, C.R. (1955) Opinion organization in a hetero- geneous adult population. J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol. 51, 559-564.
In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.
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