South African J. Psychology, 1984, 14(4), 144-146.

Authoritarian dominance, self-esteem, and manifest anxiety

J.J. Ray

School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box l, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia

A mail-out questionnaire was sent to addresses selected at random from the Australian electoral rolls. There were 95 respondents. It contained the Rosenberg Self-esteem scale, the Taylor Manifest Anxiety scale, and the Ray 'Directiveness' scale of authoritarian dominance. Reliabilities (alpha) of 0.83, 0.87 and 0.75 were observed. Authoritarianism was found to be weakly associated with better mental health (in the sense of greater self-esteem and less anxiety). This is consistent with previous findings from South Africa but is at variance with the account given by Adorno et al. (1950). It is pointed out that dominance is also generally adaptive in animal species.


Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950) postulated a relationship between authoritarianism and some forms of mental ill-health. Authoritarianism was described as a 'disease' to be 'cured' (p. 974). Despite a considerable barrage of methodological critique and subsequent non-confirmatory studies (Ray, 1976; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983; Titus, 1968; Titus & Hollander, 1957) there still seems to be some acceptance of this proposition.

What particular type of pathology is associated with authoritarianism? A central proposal in the Adorno et al. (1950) work was cognitive rigidity but their work in this respect has been widely questioned (Ray, 1976; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983; Rokeach, 1960). Attempts at confirmatory studies by other authors (e.g., Rigby & Rump, 1982; Sidanius & Ekehammar, 1977) have been marred by various artifacts (Ray, 1984b). Chronic hostility or aggressiveness is another possibility but this too is not well supported (Garcia & Griffitt, 1978; Ray, 1983). Eysenck & Eysenck (1969) have argued that neuroticism is the major factor of personality pathology but neuroticism too seems to be unrelated to authoritarianism in its various senses (Masling, 1954; Ray, 1981). Perhaps in the end searching for particular pathologies misses the point. What constitutes good adjustment is surely a rather arbitrary judgment. Radical mental health workers such as Laing (1969) or Szasz (1970) make a case for the view that mental health is entirely a social construct. They claim that the analogy with physical disease is a spurious one and that behaviour labelled as mentally ill is so labelled merely to facilitate social control by the dominant forces in any given society.

Although this critique has not been and perhaps should not be entirely accepted, it is probably one of the reasons why many psychologists in recent years have moved towards defining mental health more from the point of view of the 'patient' himself or herself. If the person is happy with his or her adjustment, can we morally or usefully criticize that adjustment? Usually, the answer must surely be 'No'. This viewpoint is perhaps reflected in the now common use of measures of self-esteem as indicators of global adjustment or optimal functioning (Goldsmith & Goldsmith, 1982; Taylor &,Hall, 1982). It is the aim of the present research to extend such a definition of good adjustment to an examination of the Adorno et al. (1950) thesis. Are authoritarians themselves happy with what they are?

Before attempting any answer to this question, however, some note must be taken of the fact that the California Fscale can no longer be accepted as a valid measure of authoritarianism. It appears to have virtually no relationship with behaviour of any sort (Ray, 1976; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983; Titus, 1968; Titus & Hollander, 1957). It is perhaps best seen as a measure of an old-fashioned type of conservatism. If we are interested in studying authoritarianism, then, we must turn to one of the many alternatives to the F-scale (Ray, 1984b). Since authoritarianism in interpersonal behaviour probably goes close to the core of interest in the concept, the scale chosen for use was the Ray (1976) 'Directiveness' scale. This scale has shown high correlations with peer ratings of 'the desire or tendency of a person to impose his (or her) own will on others' and was originally designed to pick out the sort of person who is: 'Prone to behave as the Nazis did - in an aggressive, domineering and destructive way towards other people' (Ray, 1976 p. 307). It is, in other words, a well-validated measure of authoritarian dominance.

Authoritarian dominance is, of course, only one part of the syndrome described by Adorno et al. (1950). To them authoritarianism had many other aspects as well. Since the correlation between these various 'aspects' is now, however, known to be very much less than Adorno et al. (1950) thought (Brown, 1965), it seems clear that careful research must study the correlates of each of these aspects separately (Ray, 1976). The results of the present study of authoritarian dominance, therefore, need not be generalizable to authoritarianism in other senses. That authoritarian dominance was one of the central concerns in the Adorno et al. (1950) theory is, however, beyond dispute. They could hardly have purported to be presenting an explanation of German Nazism otherwise. The present study will, therefore, be highly relevant to the Adorno et al. (1950) theory even if it does not test all aspects of that theory.

There is in fact already some evidence that authoritarian dominance goes with high self-esteem. In a sample of 95 white South Africans gathered in Bloemfontein (Ray & Heaven, 1984), the Ray Directiveness scale was found to correlate 0.305 with self-esteem as measured by the Rosenberg (1965) Self-esteem scale. South African authoritarians tended to be quite pleased with themselves. This could, however, be a peculiarly South African result. Research in other ocieties is clearly called for.


In addition to the 14-item 'Mark III' version (see Ray, 1980) of the Directiveness scale and the 10-item Rosenberg Selfesteem scale as listed in Bahr & Caplow (1973), the 28-item Taylor (1953) Manifest Anxiety Scale (MAS) was included in the questionnaire. This scale inventories a wide range of physical symptoms of psychological distress and was, as such, felt to offer a useful supplement to self-esteem as a measure of overall mental health. Given its conceptual relationship with neuroticism, it also makes possible some comparison with earlier studies (Masling, 1954; Ray, 1981).

The three scales were included in a questionnaire mailed to a randomly selected sample of 500 Australians and the 95 usable replies constitute the data available for analysis. Other results from the same survey can be found in Ray (1984c) - where full methodological details may also be found. Note that although low response rate is always a problem with postal surveys, the sample does at least cover a much wider demographic range than the more usual sample of college students.


The reliabilities (alpha) of the scales were: MAS 0.87; Self-esteem 0.83; Directiveness 0.75. .Authoritarians were found to show less anxiety (r = -0.22) and higher self-esteem (r = 0.21). Both correlations are significant at the 0.05 level. As general population data on the Rosenberg scale are sparse, it may be of interest to note that its positively and negatively scored halves showed a very satisfactory correlation of -0.67 (before reverse-scoring). All its items showed highly significant (p < 0.01) item-total correlations and it correlated 0.58 with the MAS. The correlation between the MAS and the self-esteem scale was high (r = 0.58; p < 0.001) for two scales that were ostensibly quite differently conceived. This does, then, lend support to the view that both were tapping to some extent a broad mental health factor.


The finding from South Africa rather than the Adorno et al. (1950) theory has been confirmed. On both criteria used on the present occasion, directive people were found to show better rather than poorer mental health. This is consistent with the findings of a previous study using the Directiveness scale (Ray, 1979) wherein authoritarians were found to be solid citizens rather than misfits. People who boss others around are not generally deviant. If they were, they would probably in general have little success at bossing others around. It should be noted that even with the F-scale, something similar is usually found. From Masling (1954) to Hong and Withers (1982) neuroticism or chronic anxiety has been found to be unrelated to F-scale authoritarianism. It should also be noted that Mirci (1983) in her study of student politics in Turkey reported particularly high levels of self-esteem among Rightist activists. All these findings run counter to the Adorno et al. (1950) theory.

In animal species, dominance is generally associated with a whole host of desirable or at least desired attributes. Dominant animals have preferential access to both food and mates (Huck & Banks, 1982). It should not therefore be surprising that at least some vestige of such an association is to be found among humans. Interpersonal dominance even of an authoritarian (aggressive) kind seems to be adaptive. The effect is, however, too small to be of any great theoretical use. That which advantages social mammals generally obviously advantages man (with his much more complex resource-allocation systems) far less. The mental health advantage of dominance is adventirious rather than strong. The importance of the present findings would seem to lie then mainly in the fact that what was found is opposed to the expectations engendered by Adorno et al. (1950).

An interesting, though not unexpected, by-product of the present research was the high correlation observed between self-esteem and chronic anxiety as measured by the MAS. This clearly supports Eysenck's theory (Eysenck & Eysenek, 1969) that there is a single underlying 'neuroticism' factor in most mental health measurements. New methods of indexing adjustment lead to conclusions very similar to those obtained with older methods.


{Articles below by J.J. Ray can generally be accessed simply by clicking on the name of the article. I am however also gradually putting online a lot of abstracts, extracts and summaries from older articles by other authors so if an article not highlighted below seems of particular interest, clicking here or here might just save you a trip to the library}

Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J., & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personallty. N.Y.: Harper.

Bahr, H.M., & Caplow, T. (1973). Old men drunk and sober: N.Y.: N.Y. University Press.

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

Eysenck, H.J., & Eysenck, S.B.G (1969). Personality strucrure and measurement. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Goldsmith, R.E., & Goldsmith, E.B. (1982). Dogmatism and self-esteem: Further evidence. Psychological Reports, 51, 289 290.

Garcia, LT., & Griffitt, SS. (1978) Authoritarianism-situation interactions in the determination of punitiveness: Engaging authoritarian ideology. Journal of Research in Personality, 12, 469-478.

Hong, S., & Withers, C.M. (1982). Trait anger, locus of control, religiosity, and authoritarianism as related to trait anxiety. Psychological Reports, 51, 941-942.

Huck, U.W., & Banks, E. M. (1982). Differential attraction of females to dominant males: Olfactorv discrimination and mating preference in the Brown Lemming. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 11, 217-222.

Laing, R.D. (1969). The divided self. NY.: Pantheon.

Masling, M. (1954). How neurotic is the authoritarian? Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 49, 316-318.

Mirci, S. (1983). Political extremism in Turkey. Paper presented at the annual conference of the International Society of Political Psychology; Oxford Universiy, England.

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

Ray, J.J. (1979) The authoritarian as measured by a personality scale: Solid citizen or misfit? J. Clinical Psychology 35, 744-746.

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. (1981) Do authoritarian attitudes or authoritarian personality reflect mental illness? S. African J. Psychology 11, 153-157.

Ray, J.J. (1983) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

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

Ray, J.J. (1984b). Cognitive styles and authoritarianism: A comment on Rigby & Rump. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 283-284.

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

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

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. (1982). Attitude towards authority and authoritarian Personality characteristics. Journal of Social Psychology, 116, 61-72.

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

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton U.P.

Sidanius, J., & Ekehammar, B. (1977). Cognitive differentiation and socio-politico ideology: An exploratory study. Psychological Reports, 41, 203-211.

Szasz, T.S. (1970). Ideology and insanity. N.Y. Anchor.

Taylor, J.A. (1953). A personality scale of manifest anxiety. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48, 285-290.

Taylor, M.C., & Hall, J.A. (1982). Psychological androgyny: Theories, methods and conclusions. Psychological Bulletin, 92, 347-366.

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.

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