Ethnic and Racial Studies, Volume 4 Number 3 July 1981, 348-352.

(With a post-publication addendum following the original article)


John J. Ray

University of New South Wales


As has been amply documented elsewhere (Stevens, 1972), Australians have a record of racism that does indeed call for explanation. The studies assembled by Stevens go some way towards filling that need. One type of explanation well known in the United States, however (Adorno et al., 1950) was not given close attention. This is the explanation of racism in terms of personal psychological factors of a rather Freudian character.

Many authors (e.g. Jones, 1972) hold that it is a considerable error to seek explanations for inter-group phenomena in intra-psychic processes. They hold that the source of the problem lies in the society rather than in the individual. This is no doubt true, but it does even so leave open the possibility of individual differences being a contributing factor, if not a decisive one. It is the purpose of the present paper to give some examination to the possible role of such factors in Australian attitudes. We will examine what type of person tends to be the most prejudiced among present-day Australians.

The major theory in this field is of course that of Adorno et al. (1950). They claim that racial prejudice arises from adverse childhood experience with familial sources of authority. An oppressive father is said to give rise to repressed hostility which finds its expression in later life as hostility towards groups not well able to hit back - towards racial minorities. An important secondary aspect of this theory is that the prejudiced person is said to be detectable by certain aspects of his cognitive style that have also arisen from his childhood conflicts. These aspects are rigidity and intolerance of ambiguity. He also has punitive and aggressive impulses in other fields which colour his general political predilections. He is, in a word, potentially Fascist.

Although much attacked on a variety of methodological and substantive grounds (Christie and Jahoda, 1954; McKinney, 1973), this theory is none the less still very influential among social scientists and in fact appears in uncritical presentations in many texts. Whether it applies among Australians must then be seen as a very germane inquiry.


The instrument used by Adorno et al. (1950) to tap the general personality type said by them to be potentially most racist was the California F scale ('F' for Fascism). Because it was intended as a covert instrument, it was not in fact a personality scale in the usual sense. It was instead an attitude scale -- a compendium of opinion on a range of general social issues with no obvious connection either with how the person usually behaved or with what he thought about minorities. The major criticism levelled at this instrument (Christie, Havel and Seidenberg, 1956) was that it had no anti-Fascist items. It was a perfect example of what in law would be called 'Leading the witness'. In such circumstances, the implication of a `Yes' to any of its items was doubtful. Some authors (e.g. Peabody, 1966) held that it measured nothing other than the tendency to say 'Yes'. This difficulty has, however, now been overcome by the production of a form of the scale wherein the respondent has to say 'No' to half of the items in order to get a maximum score (Ray, 1972). It is this 'balanced' form of the scale (in a short form of fourteen items) that is used in the present study.

There is less consensus on how the cognitive style variables of the California theory are to be measured. The two most widely used measures are the Gough-Sanford Rigidity scale (see the appendix in Rokeach, 1960) and the Budner (1962) Intolerance of Ambiguity scale, and these also were included in the present study.

Two other scales included were the Eysenck and Eysenck (1976) P scale and the Ray (1976) 'Directiveness' scale. The latter scale was also designed as a measure of authoritarian personality but was as direct in its questions as the F scale was indirect. This has the advantage of giving it greater validity as a predictor of actual authoritarian behaviour (see Ray, 1976). The Eysenck `P' scale is a more controversial measure. Since it originates from factor analytic explorations, what it measures is not nearly as clear as it might be. Eysenck himself vacillates between calling it a measure of 'Psychoticism' and of 'Tough-mindedness'. The general thrust of its items is to describe behaviour of an aggressive and uncaring kind. As such, it seems a good prospect as a predictor of racism. Eysenck (1954) himself claims that tough-mindedness is the basic component of authoritarianism - and as such, presumably also of racism.

Racial attitudes themselves were measured by a slightly expanded form of the Ray (1974 and 1976) 'Attitude to Aborigines' scale. Although there are other important forms of racism in Australia, attitudes towards Aborigines do seem to be the most perennial and political issue. In its expanded form, the scale consists of seven anti-Aboriginal and seven pro-Aboriginal items. A list of the items is given in the Appendix. A questionnaire comprising the above scales was made up and posted to a sample of 500 people selected at random from the New South Wales electoral rolls. The 140 questionnaires returned formed the sample for analysis. Postal surveys are often criticized for their poor response rate (28 per cent in the present case). It should be noted, however, that the total non-participation rate in doorstep cluster sampling (the method used throughout the world by most public opinion polls) is probably not dissimilar once not-at-homes are included. The sample N (140) may also seem low, but it must be noted that such an N will show correlations explaining as little as 3 per cent of the variance as statistically significant. Only if very weak effects were of interest or if precise estimation of parameters were required would a larger sample be necessary.


The demographic structure of the resultant sample (on age, sex, occupation and education) proved to be virtually indistinguishable from that of contemporaneous random samples gathered by doorstep interviews in the Sydney metropolitan area. There were certainly no significant differences on demographic variables. Even though the final sample may have comprised only a percentage of the original one, it was none the less representative in important respects.

The reliabilities observed (coefficient 'alpha') for the scales were as follows: 'P' scale .64, F scale . 75, Rigidity .73, Intolerance of Ambiguity .56, 'Directiveness' .76 and Attitude to Aborigines .86. Where applicable, the correlations between the positive and negative items of the various scales (after reverse-scoring) were as follows: 'P' scale .43, F scale .47, Intolerance of Ambiguity .08, Directiveness .42, and Attitude to Aborigines .63. Clearly, construct validity was questionable only in the case of the Intolerance of Ambiguity scale.

The correlations of all variables with the Attitude to Aborigines scale were as follows: 'P' factor -.130, F scale .285, Rigidity .262, Intolerance of ambiguity .105, Directiveness .118, Age .317, Sex -.212, Occupation -.070, Education -.105 and Political party preference .241. Of these, only correlations above .165 were significant at the .05 level (two-tailed).

The meaning of the correlations is that the racially prejudiced were slightly pro-Fascist in ideology, slightly more rigid, slightly older, slightly more likely to favour the Liberal and Country parties at election time. They were not particularly tough-minded, intolerant of ambiguity, authoritarian in their behaviour, working-class or poorly educated.


The correlation between the F scale and prejudice was vastly lower than the characteristic .8 reported by Adorno et al. (1950). Thus although the ideology expressed in the F scale may have been a powerful explanation of attitude towards Jews and other American outgroups in the California of the late 1940s, it is only a weak predictor of attitude towards Aborigines in the Australia of today. None the less it does serve to show that individual psychological differences do have apart to play in the explanation of prejudice.

A considerable surprise was the failure of the aggressive, uncaring behaviours of the Eysenck 'P' scale to predict racial attitudes. This was supported by the failure of the dominant behaviours reported in the Ray `Directiveness' scale to predict prejudice. The 'P' and Directiveness scales themselves, however, correlated only .181. If racists are not tough, domineering, aggressive and uncaring people, what are they?

Regrettably, it is not really possible to say anything about their cognitive style. The one scale of cognitive style that did have both positively and negatively scored items showed no correlation between those two item groups. This means that items of supposedly opposite meaning were not in fact responded to oppositely. What they do mean therefore must be seen as uncertain. The other scale of cognitive style was not worded in such a way as to make a similar examination of its construct validity possible but, in the circumstances, it too must be seen as suspect. This discovery of severe psychometric inadequacy in a widely used scale of cognitive style does have serious implications for previous studies of the subject. It suggests that their results too might have been the product of invalid measuring instruments.

The finding that prejudiced people were not more likely to be in manual occupations or poorly educated is at some variance with overseas findings (see Brown, 1965; ch. 10) and suggests that such effects when observed are indeed the product of the social system. We might even tentatively conclude that the failure of working-class people to be prejudiced against Aborigines in New South Wales reflects the fact that Aborigines are not to them an economic threat. Since Aborigines are few in absolute numbers and are very largely unemployed, they do not provide the economic competition that minorities do elsewhere. The present results certainly do make very suspect any view that the workers are intrinsically or inevitably prejudiced in their attitudes.

Rather than having a social or personality basis, then, the predictors of racism observed in the present study would appear to have an ideological basis. People with negative views of Aborigines tend to vote conservative and endorse statements of a generally conservative ideology. Even the fact of being older and more likely to be male probably has its effect via ideology broadly conceived. Older people do tend to have a more conservative orientation, and males too are probably more likely to see the world in a rather more Darwinian way. As they are more generally involved in economic struggle and competition, it is not unreasonable to expect that their attitudes should become more hardened.

We are left, then, with the one broad generalization that racial prejudice is an outcome of conservatism. It should be noted that this conclusion accepts the California F scale as a measure of social conservatism only. This is in line with the extensive arguments advanced in Ray (1973) - where it was shown on both historical and psychometric grounds that what the F scale measures is indistinguishable from traditional notions of political conservatism. Without recapitulating those arguments, it might be sufficient to note that on the present occasion the direct or 'overt' measure of authoritarianism did not correlate with racial attitudes. What caused the F scale to correlate with racial attitudes could not therefore be authoritarianism.

The major conclusion of the present work, then, must be to reject the California theory that racial attitudes are to be explained as an outcome of personality. Racial attitudes do show individual differences, but these are differences in ideology rather than differences in characteristic behaviour patterns or motivation.

How do we explain why conservatives are less racially tolerant? The usual account of conservatives is that they are people who desire maintenance of the status quo. Ray (1974) has, however, argued that the real motor of conservative behaviour is cynicism or scepticism about human nature. It is because they doubt man's wisdom and benevolence that conservatives resist rapid change. They want to evaluate change as it happens rather than committing themselves to an advance acceptance of it on trust. Conservatives themselves, on the other hand, explain their conservatism as the outcome of 'realism'. They are realistic while their ideological antagonists are 'idealistic'.

Any of these three accounts of conservatism will work as an explanation of the present findings. Conservatives look down on Australian Aborigines because that is the traditional thing to do. Up until very recently, Aborigines have always been looked down on, so the conservative will continue to do so. Being cynical about man, conservatives are also less likely to make allowances for the characteristic behaviour differences between Aboriginal and white Australians. Where a radical might put higher Aboriginal unemployment and infant mortality down to difficulties of cultural transition, the conservative is more likely to conclude that Aborigines are simply lazy or stupid. Thirdly, given that Aborigines are in fact backward by the prevailing standards of white Australian culture, the conservative could simply claim that he is recognizing backwardness when he sees it. Radicals who regard this backwardness as being basically temporary or even praiseworthy he could with some justice call `idealistic'. The conservative sticks to the reality whereas the radical concentrates on what might be or what might have been.

In all this, however, it must be kept in mind how weak are the trends shown up in the present study. Individual differences of any sort account for only a very small amount of the variation in racial attitudes. By comparison, social factors have enormous influence. This is perhaps exemplified by the work of Mitchell (1968), who documented the effect of contact with Aborigines on the vote in Australia's constitutional referendum designed to give Aborigines citizenship. He found a correlation of .9 between the proportion of `No' votes cast and the density of the Aboriginal population in a given area. The more contact people had had with Aborigines, the less they respected them. The effects of individual differences (correlations in the present study of around .2) fade into insignificance by contrast. The Adorno model of racial prejudice is, then, of little significance for Australia today.


The items of the Attitude to Aborigines scale. All items are responded to on a five-point scale from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. Items marked R below earn a high score for disagreement. Others earn a high score for agreement. All items are scored from 5 to 1 and then summed.

1. R Aborigines deserve better than they get in Australia at the moment.
2. Aborigines should be kept as separate as possible from other races.
3. Giving the Aborigines more or better education would only make them more discontented.
4. R Many Aborigines would probably be just as good at doing clerical work as white people are.
5. Aborigines generally don't show much inclination to work.
6. R The Aborigines have been unfairly discriminated against.
7. Aborigines are not very hygiene-conscious.
8. Drunkenness is one of the greatest problems with Aborigines.
9. Aborigines often get into fights with one another.
10. R Given the chance, the Aborigine will work as hard as the white man.
11. R It is only because they haven't had the same chance to get an education that Aborigines can't get work.
12. R Aborigines are a kind and gentle people.
13. The Aborigines are a rather ugly race.
14. R We could learn a lot from the way Aborigines share with one another everything they've got.


ADORNO, T. W., FRENKEL-BRUNSWIK, E., LEVINSON, D. J., and SANFORD, R. N. 1950 The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper.

BROWN, R. 1965 Social psychology. New York: Free Press.

BUDNER, S. 1962 `Intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable'. Journal of Personality 30: 29-50.

CHRISTIE, R., and JAHODA, M. 1954 Studies in the Scope and Method of 'The Authoritarian Personality'. Chicago: Free Press.

CHRISTIE, R., HAVEL, J., and SEIDENBERG, B. 1956 `Is the F scale irreversible?' Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology 56: 141-58.

EYSENCK, H. J. 1954 The Psychology of Politics. London: Routledge.

EYSENCK, H. J., and EYSENCK, S. B. G. 1976 Psychoticism as a Dimension of Personality. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

JONES, J. M. 1972 Prejudice and Racism. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

MCKINNEY, D. W. 1973 The Authoritarian Personality Studies. The Hague: Mouton.

MITCHELL, I. S. 1968 'Epilogue to a referendum'. Australian Journal of Social Issues 3 (4): 9-12.

PEABODY, D. 1966 'Authoritarianism scales and response bias'. Psychological Bulletin 65: 11-23.

RAY, J.J. (1972) A new balanced F scale -- And its relation to social class. Australian Psychologist 7, 155-166.

RAY, J.J. (1973) Conservatism, authoritarianism and related variables: A review and an empirical study. Ch. 2 in: G.D. Wilson (Ed.) The psychology of conservatism London: Academic Press.

RAY, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

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

ROKEACH, M. 1960 The Open and Closed Mind. New York: Basic Books.

STEVENS, F. S. 1972 Racism: The Australian Experience. Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.


I am pleased to say that my understanding of some matters has advanced in the 23 years since the above article was written. In particular, my view of what the enigmatic 'F' scales measures has changed. Under the influence of the Leftist thinking that prevails in psychology I was once of the view that the F scale items lay in the mainstream of conservative thinking. A wider knowledge of the evidence has however now led me to the view that they measure simply an old-fashioned orientation with no current political relevance (Ray, 1990). This means that the principal politically-relevant finding above was the .241 correlation between vote and racial attitudes. Note however that the meaning of this correlation is that there is only a 5% overlap between vote and racial attitudes. In other words the were nearly as many Leftist as Rightist voters who were critical of Australian blacks.

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


Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

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. 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.

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