The Journal of Social Psychology, 1979, 108, 271-272.


University of New South Wales, Australia


Berry (1) and Thomas (2) have claimed that Australians are particularly authoritarian. Both speak as outsiders -- one a Canadian and one a New Zealander -- who spent some time in Australia. Both studies have already been criticized on methodological grounds (3, 4). In each case doubts hung over the measuring instruments these authors used. The F scale has a well-known problem with validity and the Wilson Conservatism scale can be described as a measure of authoritarianism only if we are prepared to make the quite tendentious assertion that the two constructs are identical.

In this study, authoritarianism was measured by the Ray (5) "Directiveness" scale -- a balanced scale in behavior inventory format which gives strong predictions of peer-rated authoritarian behavior. It was used on this occasion in its short form of 14 items.

Because Britain is such an important reference point for most Australians, the comparison attempted was between the characteristics of Britons and Australians. Because Britain is itself far from homogeneous, an attempt was also made to study at least English and Scottish responses separately.

The largest city in each country was selected as a sampling frame: Sydney, London, and Glasgow. Although none can be considered entirely typical of the countries in which they are located, they do make relevant international comparisons possible and they form a large enough fraction of the population in their respective countries to be of considerable interest in their own right. In each case it was the city and suburbs that were sampled -- defined as the area covered by locally available street atlases. The sampling method was door to door random cluster sampling. This is the method used by most British and Australian public opinion polls where it generally gives very accurate results. The sample Ns were 100 in Glasgow, 100 in London, and 95 in Sydney. Ns greater than this give very little gain in statistical significance.

The means (and SDs) observed were 31.38 (5.17) in London, 30.73 (5.48) in Glasgow, and 31.36 (5.38) in Sydney. Reliabilities (alpha) of the scale were respectively .66, .71, and .70 in the three cities. The mean scores are then close to being identical in the three societies and such differences as do exist are certainly not significant. The reliabilities are at a level to be expected with a short form of a scale.

Australians may in some senses be more conservative than others, but what has perhaps been shown here is that one's tendency to dominate others is a deep-seated personality trait which is relatively unaffected by variations in the surrounding culture.


1. Berry, J. W. Preliminary evidence for personal authoritarianism and ethnocentrism in Australians. Politics, 1970, 5, 228-229.

2. Thomas, D. R. The relationship between ethnocentrism and conservatism in an "authoritarian" culture. J. Soc. Psychol., 1974, 94, 179-186.

3. Ray, J.J. (1971) Australians authoritarian? A critique of J.W. Berry. Politics 6, 92.

4. Ray, J.J. (1976) Authoritarianism and racial prejudice in Australia: A reply to Thomas. Journal of Social Psychology, 99, 163-166.

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

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