Journal of Personality Assessment, 1981, 45 (4), 390-397.



University of New South Wales, Australia


It is shown that there are definitions of the three constructs of authoritarianism, dominance and assertiveness which read very similarly; so much so that no distinction is immediately evident. It is proposed that authoritarianism might be conceived as aggressive dominance, and at least some types of assertiveness as non-aggressive dominance. A new scale of Dominance suitable for general population use was produced and compared with the existing Ray ( 1976) behavior inventory of authoritarianism. Both scales showed highly significant correlations with peer-rated dominance and submission (the latter being negative in sign) but only the authoritarianism scale showed significant correlations with rated aggressiveness and rigidity. It was concluded that the new definitions could be operationalized into valid scales.

Although authoritarianism is certainly not now the "hot" topic in the psychological literature that it once was, its continuing relevance seems hard to dispute. The most casual perusal of the Social Science Citation Index will reveal that hardly a month goes by without the seminal work on the topic by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950) being cited somewhere.

A recent development of some interest therefore has been the proliferation of work on the concept of assertiveness. This work comes out of the social skills training literature and usually appears in fact as a basic aspect of work on assertiveness training. Although assertiveness and authoritarianism look at first glance like very similar constructs, it is remarkable that the two literatures seem to lead quite independent lives. Whether there is in fact any connection between the two realms of discourse is not easily established. What is the difference between being authoritarian and being assertive?

Another less recent development of some potential relevance to authoritarianism studies is the continuation by sociobiologists of the work by ethologists on the phenomena of dominance (Burnet, 1970: Lorenz, 1966). If dominance of at least some sort is not a part of authoritarianism, it would be difficult to say what authoritarianism is. Despite this, the sociobiological literature also seems to have had little impact on authoritarianism studies. Some approach to an integration of the three literatures does seem called for.

In the present paper, therefore, the first step to such an integration is attempted by proposing definitions of the three central terms that specify both the ways in which they are similar and the ways in which they differ. As a subsequent step, the adequacy of available measuring instruments for each of the three central constructs will be examined in the light of the new definitions.

The enterprise aspired to in the present paper is made doubly difficult by the fact that agreed definitions even within the three literatures are hard to find. This is particularly so in the case of assertiveness, where there is some doubt that such a general factor even exists (Lawrence, 1970). The authoritarianism literature offers some contrast in that there is one acknowledged seminal work (Adorno et al., 1950) offering definitions of the construct which one ought to be able to expect would be accepted as authoritative. As we shall see, however, this is not necessarily so.

The definition of the authoritarian personality offered by Adorno et al. (1950) was in fact a description of a whole host of covarying traits. Authoritarians were said to be at once servile to superiors, domineering to subordinates, rigid, hostile, punitive, intolerant of ambiguity, politically conservative and ethnocentric. Almost immediately their work was published, however, people began disagreeing with the proposal that these traits do in fact covary. In particular, the proposal that only political Rightists are authoritarian seemed absurd (Shils, 1954), and even the association between authoritarianism and rigidity could not be established under replication (Brown, 1965). Perhaps most serious of all, authoritarian attitudes as measured by the Adorno et al. "F" scale appear to have almost no relationship with authoritarian behavior (Ray, 1976; Titus & Hollander, 1957; Titus, 1968).

In the circumstances, Ray (1976) attempted to salvage something from the literature by singling out what seemed to be the one irreducible core clement in any definition of authoritarianism -- "The desire or tendency to impose one's own will on others" (p. 314). The scale produced to measure this construct was called the "Directiveness" scale. Whether or not authoritarians in this sense were rigid, servile to superiors or anything else was seen as a question properly reserved for empirical proof -- rather than being embodied in the definition. This view was reinforced by the finding reported in the same paper to the effect that far from domineering people also tending to be submissive, there was a highly significant tendency for them not to be submissive. Although Adorno et al. would lead one to believe that domineering behavior and servile behavior were positively correlated, they were in fact negatively correlated. Both types of behavior were, however, shown to be highly significantly related (positively and negatively) to scores on the new "Directiveness" scale. This did represent a considerable improvement over the Adorno et al. (1950) "F" scale.

It is therefore interesting that in the recent study of assertiveness by Lorr & More (1980), "Directiveness" is chosen as the label for one of their four assertiveness subcategories. The multivariate approach of these authors to the measurement of assertiveness would seem to be almost a mandatory one in view of the great variety of behaviors subsumed under the term in the literature. It is therefore encouraging that they also seem to have produced four highly reliable scales for the measurement of their four constructs. Of most interest here, however, is the definition offered by these authors for their concept of Directiveness: "The disposition and ability to lead, direct or influence others -- (p. 128). There would seem to be very little difference indeed between this conception of assertiveness and the Ray (1976) conception of authoritarianism.

How then is the third element of our troika defined? What is meant by "Dominance"? Again it seems most useful to turn to a working definition of dominance as used in scale construction. In describing the high scorer on the Dominance subscale of his "PRF" battery, Jackson (1967) says he "Attempts to control his environment and to influence or direct other people; expresses opinions forcefully, enjoys the role of leader and may assume it spontaneously" (p. 6). We do then appear have three definitions of ostensibly different constructs which in fact end up saying much the same thing. The similarity is obvious. Are there also differences?

In considering what distinctions might be proposed, a distinction popular in the social skills training literature may be adverted to: The distinction between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Although in the broadest sense any act of aggression is also assertive, in this literature (e.g., Hollandsworth, 1977) assertiveness and aggressiveness have opposite value loadings. To be` a little crass about it, assertiveness is good but aggressiveness is bad. Assertiveness is in this literature referred to as expressing yourself without at the same time attacking others. Aggressiveness (attacking others) is then in a sense essentially an inferior form of assertiveness that tends to defeat its own object and assertiveness training is conceived in fact as an appropriate way of reducing aggressiveness (Fredericksen, Jenkins, Foy & Eisler, 1976).

Clearly, authoritarianism has a lot in common with the assertiveness part of this schema. Aggressiveness was certainly a major part of the Adorno et al. (1950) concept. We could then extend this schema by postulating "Dominance" as the value neutral behavior description, with "authoritarianism" and "assertiveness" as the socially undesirable and socially desirable versions of the attribute. To describe behavior as "dominant" is to make no judgment of it, but to describe it as assertive or authoritarian is also to express approval or disapproval of it. This is however to some extent begging the question. What is it about the behavior that causes us to approve or disapprove of it? In the parlance of the social skills training literature, we must surely say that the critical variable is the amount of aggressiveness displayed. If we prevail with just a "normal" amount of aggressiveness, we are "dominant"; If we prevail with a lot of aggression, we are "authoritarian"; If we prevail in a manner that is so skilful as to dispense with almost all aggressiveness, we are "assertive." This may, of course, not be a complete account of either authoritarianism or assertiveness. There is for instance some tendency in the social skills training literature to talk as if assertiveness had no end at all of influencing the behavior of other people. The end is seen as simply expressing oneself. Whether one can express oneself in a social vacuum and whether doing so would have any point are not questions that need be addressed here, however. As was noted above, there are many types of behavior called "assertive" in the literature and the concern here is simply with that type of assertiveness identified by Lorr & More (1980) as "Directive" -- i.e. the type of assertive behavior that has most points of contact with dominance and authoritarianism.

What has been said so far in this paper does not of course purport in any way to be a review of the whole literature on any one of the three constructs discussed. To attempt to do so would a book-length enterprise. There is also a massive sociological literature on the concepts of power, influence, and authority that would have to be included in any attempt at a comprehensive review of the whole area. What is attempted here is then much more modest -- a search for the areas where the concepts overlap and attempt to devise definitions that will enable us conveniently to distinguish them from one another.

Having adopted definitions for distinguishing between the three constructs is, however, only a start. The next thing needed is to demonstrate that we can measure the three things separately. Unfortunately, the present paper can only make a start in this direction. An attempt will be made to demonstrate that authoritarianism and dominance can be simultaneously measured and distinguished. As will be seen, this is a sufficiently large enterprise to make it necessary to relegate a similar study of assertiveness to a later paper. The existence of the Lorr & More (1980) battery of assertiveness scales does however provide a good starting point for anyone wishing to study the measurement of this construct.

Study I

The aims of this study were twofold: To examine the existing Ray (1976) "Directiveness" scale to see if what it measured did in fact conform to the enlarged definition of authoritarianism devised in the present paper: To develop a generally usable measure of dominance that will not also measure authoritarianism as defined in this paper.

That this second aim is an important one can he seen from the popular book by eminent Australian biologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet. Burnet (1970) summarizes a great deal of evidence leading to the view that the most important single influence on the life of any social animal is the degree of dominance it displays. He further shows that homo sapiens is very much a mammal for whom degree of dominance is important -- so much so in fact that Burnet regards dominance as the most prominent element in the characterization of man. All that we do is very much influenced by our preoccupation with dominating and the extent to which we are dominated. To make his point more vivid, Burnet also asks why it is that we have IQ scales which we routinely use but we do not have similar DQ or "Dominancy Quotient" scales. He regards degree of dominance as just as significant a determinant of life chances as is intelligence. It is true that we do of course have many existing dominance scales but we do not in fact have any designed to be used in the way Burnet had in mind. Almost all our dominance scales (including the Jackson [1967] "PRF") were developed on student populations and have only student norms. The MMPI is an exception in that its scales were developed on hospital personnel but hospital norms are of course a far cry from general population norms. The only scale which would in fact appear to offer general population norms would be the subscale from the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (EPPS). This scale however is in forced choice format and as such is heir to all the validity problems that generally characterize forced choice scales (Orvik, 1972; Ray, 1973).

Given the importance attached to the construct by Burnet (1970), therefore, it seemed necessary to construct a new scale which would from the beginning be applicable to general population samples. To economize somewhat on effort, however, it seemed desirable to see if this might not be accomplished simply by making modifications to the Ray (1976) "Directiveness" scale. This scale had been designed for general population use and the construct it measured was certainly very largely Dominance.

The study proceeded then by adding to the Directiveness scale a large set of additional items designed to describe dominance of a not particularly aggressive sort. This gave a total item pool of 66 items. There were thus 26 Directiveness items and 40 new items. As a questionnaire, these items were administered by a class of second-year Sociology students to 84 people they knew under the constraint that people in the humbler occupations were to be preferred. This was to counteract the usual middle-class bias of such samples. Administration of the items was confidential and anonymous but by various devices the students were also able to provide separate ratings of each of the people completing the questionnaire. Each respondent was rated, then, on: 1. Whether he or she tended or desired to impose his or her own will on others; 2. Whether he or she tended to accept direction from others; 3. Whether he or she was aggressive; and 4. Whether he or she was rigid in his/her ideas. The first two ratings were as used in the (Ray, 1976) validity study for the Directiveness scale and were expected to correlate significantly with both the Directiveness scale and the new Dominance scale to be produced. The third rating was intended to discriminate the two scales. Directive people (authoritarians) were expected to be seen as especially aggressive while dominant people were not. The fourth rating was to check on what Adorno et al. (1950) postulated as one of the central elements of authoritarianism.

Peer ratings were chosen as the prime validity criterion because they treat the rater as an accumulative data bank about the person concerned. The judgment obtained from the rater does then relate to how the person usually or generally behaves. This is of course much more useful Information than how the subject might perform in one contrived experimental setting.

The 66 items were treated as one protoscale and analyzed and reduced by the Ray-McKennell method (McKennell, 1979; Ray, 1972). Thirty-six items were deleted, leaving a new 30 item dominance scale with a coefficient "alpha" reliabiIity of .89. Coefficient "alpha" was chosen as the reliability index for the reasons given at length in Nunnally, 1967, p. 210ff). In accordance with Nunnally's argument, alpha was deemed a more accurate estimate of reliability than test-retest correlation. The reliability observed, then, did in fact approximate the standard set by Shaw and Wright (1967) as that required in a test for general use. The items of the new scale appear in Table 1.

Table 1: The items of the new General Population Dominance scale

1. Are you the sort of person who always likes to get their own way?
2. Do you tend to boss people around?
3. Do you dislike having to tell others what to do?
4. If you are told to take charge of some situation, does this make you feel uncomfortable?
5. Would you rather take orders than give them?
6. Do you dislike standing out from the crowd?
7. Do you find it difficult to make up your own mind about things?
8. If anyone is going to be Top Dog, would you rather it be you?
9. Do you tend to dominate the conversation?
10. Do you let your wife (or husband) get their own way most of the time?
11. Are you generally a follower rather than a leader?
12. Would you prefer to be a worker rather than a manager?
13. Do you give in to other people rather easily?
14. Do you tend to be the one who makes the decisions at home?
15. Do other people tend to seek your opinion on things?
16. Do you like to have the last word in an argument or discussion?
17. Do you hate giving speeches or talks in public (For example: Being asked to say a few words at a wedding)?
18. In an argument or discussion, will you argue for your own point of view even though you are in the minority?
19. Have you ever run for office in any club or organization?
20. Are you a bit of a social organizer?
21. Are you pretty good at getting your own way in most things?
22. Rather than argue, do you sometimes let other people push you around a bit?
23. Does the idea of being a leader rather attract you?
24. Do you tend to feel quite confident on occasions when you are directing the activities of others? (or would you if you had to?).
25. Do you try to get yourself into positions of authority where you can?
26. Do you think you would make a good officer in the Army?
27. Are you often in situations where you can't make up your mind what to do for the best?
28. Are you hopeless at organizing other people?
29. Are you easily swayed by other people's opinions?
30. Do you think you would make a poor military leader?

Items 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13. 17, 22, 27, 28, 29 and 30 are scored "1" for "Yes", "2" for ? and "3" for "No". The remainder are scored "3" for "Yes." etc.

The construct measured by the Directiveness scale was confirmed to be in line with the expanded definition of authoritarianism devised in the present paper. Scores on the scale correlated significantly (r=.312) with rated aggressiveness. In addition, the correlations with rated dominance and submissiveness were .502 and -.358. This very closely replicated the findings of Ray (1976) where rs of .54 and -.34. were observed. As replication is more honored in the breach than in the observance as far as published psychological research is concerned, this evidence of very close replication of previous research is very encouraging. Another finding of some Interest was a significant correlation (.265) between rated rigidity and Directiveness scale scores. Authoritarianism as measured by the Directiveness scale did then have even more points of contact with the Adorno et al. (1950) theory than had initially seemed likely. The scale did very clearly measure something more than mere dominance.

The new Dominance scale also performed as hoped. It showed significant correlations with rated dominance (.405) and submissiveness (-.388) while the correlations with aggressiveness and rigidity were nonsignificant.

Another finding of some interest stems from the fact that in doorstep studies the Directiveness scale is usually used in a short form of 14 items (e.g., Ray, 1980a & 1980b). This form of the scale correlated significantly with dominance (.429), submissiveness (-.322) and aggressiveness (.241) but nonsignificantly with rigidity. It does then have the essential validity characteristics for an authoritarianism scale.

An often neglected consideration in validity studies is the reliability of the criterion. Because there were two prime validity criteria which were themselves expected to correlate negatively in the present research, some examination of this is possible. The correlation between the first two ratings was -.423. Treating these two ratings as a balanced two item scale, this translates (via "alpha") to a reliability of .65. For a two item scale, this is highly satisfactory. The correlation of the new scale with the combined criterion was, of course .40 (p < .01).

The mean score observed for the new scale was 64.15 (SD 12.22). The correlation between the Directiveness and Dominance scales was .84 - reflecting the fact that the two scales had 13 items in common.

Study II

This study was designed to provide criterion groups validation for the new Dominance scale. Although not previously reported, some validation of this sort had already been obtained for the Directiveness scale. This scale had been administered to 41 Royal Australian Navy officer cadets studying in various courses at the University of New South Wales. The mean score so observed was 59.53 (SD 6.60). This was significantly higher than the mean observed in a random doorstep sample obtained at the same time in the Sydney metropolitan area (Mean = 54.88; SD = 8.75; n = 95). It was felt that higher authoritarianism was to be expected in military officers and that the higher scores actually observed did thus function to validate the scale.

Similarly, it was felt that one community group that normally take dominant roles in their workaday lives are the Police. Their work repeatedly involves them in directing other people. Whether by conditioning or self-selection, one would then expect them to be more dominant. Seventy-five members of the New South Wales police force were then contacted at their local Stations by students and administered the same battery that had been used in Study I.

The reliability of the new scale with this sample was .87. The mean was 69.38 and the SD 11.40. The t for the difference between this mean and the mean of Study I was 2.72 (p < .01). Both the reliability and the validity of the new Dominance scale were then confirmed in this study.

Study III

So far the new scale had not been applied to anything like a general population sample. To overcome this, the scale was incorporated into a questionnaire mailed out to 500 people selected at random from the electoral rolls of the Australian State of New South Wales. As voter registration is compulsory in Australia not only for all Australians (black and white) but also for many non-citizen immigrants, the sampling frame was thus unusually comprehensive.

A total of 157 persons returned the questionnaire. The distribution of demographic characteristics observed in the resulting sample (age, sex, occupation, and education) was indistinguishable from that observed in contemporary random doorstep samples carried out in the Sydney metropolitan area. Thus, although the sample showed the inevitable bias towards more co-operative subjects, this did not seem to introduce any demographic biases.

The reliability observed for this sample was .86 with a mean of 64.38 and a SD of 11.03. This mean is virtually indistinguishable from that observed in Study I and confirms the representativeness of the sample there used. The reliability observed on the two occasions was also highIy comparable.

The results of this study are summarized together with the results of previous studies in Table 2.

Table 2 Summary of statistics for the Directiveness and Dominance Scales across six samples. All rs Are Significant < .05. rDOM stands for the correlation with rated dominance and rSUB stands for the correlation with rated submissiveness.


The Ray ( 1976) Directiveness Scale:

Study II of Ray (1976). n = 282........................55.44.....8.05..... .74....... .54...... -.34
Navy Cadets. n = 41........................................59.63.....6.50..... .71
Friends of students. n = 94..............................55.06.....8.14..... .75....... .50...... -.36
Police. n = 75...................................................57.68.....8.05..... .74
Random doorstep sample. n = 95...................54.88.....8.75..... .77

Short (Ray (1980a & 1980b) Directiveness Scale:

Study II of Ray (1976). n = 282........................30.07.....5.77..... .74........ .49..... -.29
Friends of students. n = 84..............................30.08.....6.25..... .79....... .43...... -.32
Random doorstep sample. n = 95...................29.69.....6.16..... .78

New Dominance Scale:

Friends of students. n = 84...............................64.15...12.22.... .89....... .41..... -.39
Police. n = 75....................................................69.38...11.40.... .87
Random postal sample. n = 157.......................64.38...11.03.... .86


It has now been demonstrated that the new definitions of authoritarianism and dominance can be operationalized in scales with appropriate discriminant and convergent validity features. Both scales have some claim to uniqueness: The Directiveness scale is the first behavior inventory designed to measure authoritarianism (Ray, 1976) and it does as such have unusual strength in predicting actual authoritarian behavior. The Dominance scale is the first behavior inventory of the construct to be designed and normed in general population samples.

Similar success in constructing appropriate scales of the various sub-types of assertiveness can then also be reasonably expected. Although the Lorr and More (1980) scales would appear to offer very useful scales to go on with of this type, it must be noted that they have been constructed and tested on student samples and have not been validated against actual behavior.

The general population applicability of the Dominance scale may make it of some use in personnel selection. If Burnet (1970) is right, we should be paying as much attention in personnel selection to Dominance as we now do to lQ. An obvious problem, of course, would be the possibility of faking. This is much easier with Dominance than with IQ. A person might well say he or she behaves in a dominant way even if he or she does not. For this reason the scale may have to be used only in a negative way: Those who do report themselves as not dominant could perhaps be excluded from further part in the selection process. Such a procedure would of course have relevance only with certain occupational groups -- such as, say, managers. For some groups, dominance would obviously not be desirable. As with all selection devices (including IQ tests) the Dominance scale would have to be validated for the particular selection task.

It is true, of course, that Burnet's primary concern was with the genetic, physiological aspects of dominance while many psychologists would deny that such things existed at all. Nonetheless Burnet does show that relatively simple biological manipulations (e.g. the injection of testosterone doses) can greatly affect the degree of dominant behavior exhibited. The cautious conclusion, therefore, is surely that human dominance is the outcome of both learned and unlearned influences and that any measure of dominance we use will reflect the sum of these two. This, however, need not make futile any attempt at measurement. Even in the animal world learning does influence behavior and there is surely some usefulness in measuring the attribute as it exists rather than the "components" which make it up. Although intelligence is generally conceded to be the outcome of both genetic and environmental factors (but see for example Hayes, 1962) this has not prevented IQ tests from having some usefulness.

The fact that scales of Dominance do not measure wholly biological differences between persons does not therefore mean that they are inadequate for differentiating human beings in the way Burnet had in mind. The new scale should therefore be of use in at least testing hypotheses derived from sociobiological theories.

Above all, however, the most useful feature of the present paper may be the demonstration that the realms of discourse associated with the three constructs of authoritarianism, assertiveness, and dominance can intelligibly be interrelated.


{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. The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper, 1950.

Brown, R. Social Psychology. New York: Free Press. 1965.

Burnet, F. M. Dominant mammal, Harmondsworth, Mddx.: Penguin, 1970.

Fredericksen, L. W., Jenkins, J.O., Foy, D.W., & Eisler, R. M Social skills training to modify abusive verbal outbursts in adults. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1976, 9, 117-123.

Hayes, K.J. Genes, drives and intellect. Psychological Reports, 1962, 10, 299-342.

Hollandsworth, J.G. Differentiating assertion and aggression: Some behavioral guidelines. Behavior Therapy 1977, 8, 347-357.

Jackson. D. N. Personality Research Form Manual. New York: Research Psychologists Press. 1967.

Lawrence, P. S. The assessment and modification of assertive behavior. Dissertation Abstracts International, 1970, 31, 173-971B

Lorenz. K. On aggression. London: Methuen. 1966

Lorr, M. & More, W.W. Four dimensions of assertiveness. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 1980, 2, 127-135.

McKennell, A. Attitude measurement: Use of coefficient alpha with cluster or factor analysis. Ch. 19 in J. Bynner and K. M. Stribley (Eds.). Social Research Principles and procedures. London: Longmans, 1979.

Nunnally, J.C. Psychometric theory. N.Y.: McGraw Hill. 1967.

Orvik, J. M Social desirability for the individual, his group and society. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 1972, 7, 3-32.

Ray, J.J. (1972) A new reliability maximization procedure for Likert scales. Australian Psychologist 7, 40-46.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Task orientation and interaction orientation scales. Personnel Psychology 26, 61-73.

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

Ray, J.J. (1980a) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

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

Shaw, M. E., and Wright. J. M. Scales for the measurement of attitudes. New York: McGraw Hill. 1967.

Shils, E. A. Authoritarianism: Right and Left, in R. Christie and M. Jahoda (Eds.), Studies in the scope and method or "The authoritarian personality" Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press. 1954.

Titus. H. E. F scale validity considered against peer nomination criteria. Psychological Record, 1968, 18, 395-403.

Titus, H. E.. and Hollander, E. P. The California F scale in psychological research: 1950-1955. Psychological Bulletin, 1957, 54. 47-64.


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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