The Journal of Social Psychology, 1989, 129(1), 135-136



School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Australia

AUTHORITARIAN ACTIONS can be the outcome of perceived threat (Sales, 1973). The authoritarian actions of the White South African government could thus result from a perception that the Black majority in South Africa poses a threat to White lives and lifestyles. If this is so, other reactions to perceived threat, such as heightened anxiety, should also be evident among South African Whites. That this is so is suggested by Duckitt's (1985) finding that his sample of South African Whites had a higher level of chronic anxiety than did a comparison sample of American Whites. It would, however, be incautious to base cross-cultural comparisons only on these two samples; comparison between South Africans and other White populations should be useful in moving toward sound generalizations in this area.

A random doorstep sample of 95 White residents of Bloemfontein was administered both a scale of attitudes toward Blacks and a version of the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale (MAS)-both in the Afrikaans language. (Fuller methodological details can be found in Ray & Heaven, 1984.) The two scales were not significantly correlated, and the mean on the MAS was 47.56 (SD = 10.82).

The MAS was then administered to a sample obtained by a random mail-out to people living in all Australian states. The sample size for analysis was 95 (fuller methodological details are given in Ray, 1984.) MAS reliability (alpha) was .87, with a mean of 42.35 and standard deviation of 10.35. The difference between the Australian and Afrikaner means was significant, p < .01: The Afrikaner sample tended to be more anxious.

Ray (1983) found levels of chronic anxiety among samples of Australians to be very similar to levels found among samples from England, Germany, and India; the present findings with the Afrikaners stand out by contrast. On the other hand, the fact that racism and anxiety were not correlated among the Afrikaners would tend to suggest that any heightened levels of anxiety among Afrikaners are not causally related to Afrikaner racist practices. Such a conclusion would be simplistic, however. Since the work of La Piere (1934), researchers have found the relationship between racist attitudes and actions problematic. This is further shown by Ray (1980), who found that White South Africans were no more anti-Black in attitude than were White Australians. Because official Australian policy tends toward affirmative action, this gap between attitudes and actions is quite as vivid as that reported by La Piere (1934). Racist actions, therefore, may be motivated by perceived threat even if racist attitudes are not.

One problem with the present study might be that the Australian sample had the large volunteer artifact characteristic of most postal surveys, whereas the South African sample had an unusually minute volunteer artifact. Nevertheless, it is possible to accept the anxiety levels of the Australian respondents as representative of nonrespondents (with some caution). The MAS was uncorrelated with any demographic variable, and Ray (1986) found that willing and less willing respondents to postal questionnaires had similar levels of chronic anxiety.


Duckitt, J. H. (1985). Prejudice and neurotic symptomatology among White South Africans. Journal of Psychology, 119, 15-20.

La Piere, R. (1934). Attitudes and actions. Social Forces, 13, 230-237.

Ray, J.J. (1980) Racism and authoritarianism among white South Africans. Journal of Social Psychology, 110, 29-37.

Ray, J.J. (1983) Race and climate as influences on anxiety. Personality & Individual Differences, 4, 699-701.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Measuring trait anxiety in general population samples. Journal of Social Psychology, 123, 189-193.

Ray, J.J. (1986) The traits of immigrants: A case study of the Sydney Parsees. J. Comparative Family Studies 17, 127-130.

Ray, J.J. & Heaven, P.C. L. (1984) Conservatism and authoritarianism among urban Afrikaners. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 163-170.

Sales, S. (1973). Threat as a factor in authoritarianism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 44-57.

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