Personality & Individual Differences, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 265-271, 1984



School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1, Kensington, N.S.W. 2033, Australia

Summary: On first glance, criminals would seem to be a very authority-defiant group-almost by definition. Yet Adorno and colleagues showed them to be very pro-authority. An F-scale version balanced against acquiescence, an Attitude to Authority (AA) scale and an Authoritarianism Behaviour Inventory (ABI) were given to a group of 70 Australian recidivist prisoners in Parramatta Gaol. Compared with general population means, they were found not to be especially high scorers on the F scale but to be very anti-authority in attitudes as measured by the Ray AA scale. They also showed lower scores on the ABI-indicating a non-dominant personality. This latter finding, however, appeared simply a reflection of the generally low occupational status of prisoners, When education was controlled for, prisoners were found to be even more anti-authority than at first appeared (as indexed by AA scale scores).


The failure of criminals to accept the code of conduct prescribed by society would seem a priori to be a very clear instance of a failure to accept authority. Whether authority is seen as emanating from the social entity as a whole or from society's legal and political institutions, it is clearly flouted by the actions of criminals. One might then say that criminals are quintessentially anti-authoritarian.

Yet the word 'authoritarian' has troubling overtones. For instance, many law-abiding liberal people would like to think of themselves as opposed to the actions of Hitler or Stalin or even of those who would limit free access to abortions. Is not this also being anti-authoritarian?

The difference is surely one of degree and one of personal commitment. The liberal normally recognizes the need for some authoritative regulation of impulse gratification. His concern to abolish certain types of regulation does not mean he opposes all regulations and also does not mean that he will personally flout the disapproved-of regulations. The criminal, by contrast, is behaving in a way that often appears to reveal no (or little) consciousness of any ethical code and acts for personal advantage rather than for social reform. He reveals that anti-authoritarianism is, like many other things, itself an evil if it is carried to extremes or if it becomes an end rather than a means.

It does not, of course, follow that the criminal who by his actions defies authority will at the same time have anti-authority attitudes. Most psychologists are by now too familiar with the phenomena of the attitude-behaviour discrepancy to expect that (Ray, 1976). The very phenomenon of feeling guilty is a recognition of such a discrepancy in one's own life. Yet on the whole the impression we have of those who repeatedly indulge in crime is not one of very guilt-ridden beings. One would expect on the whole that their attitudes to authority might be nearly as negative as their behaviour in relation to authority.

It comes as some surprise, therefore, to find that Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford (1950) record for their sample of San Quentin prisoners a mean score on their scale of authoritarianism (the 'F' scale) that is exceptionally high. According to these authors, criminals are especially acceptant of authority. Adorno et al., of course, saw no difficulty with this finding. Their F scale was supposed to measure 'pre-Fascist' tendencies as much as authoritarianism and they felt that people who express approval for authority do so only to hide the exceptional hostility and aggression that in fact moves them (but see Ray, 1980c).

Nonetheless, it is clear that from different theoretical stances it is possible to derive quite opposed predictions concerning the attitudes of criminals towards conventional authority. Needless to say. what is in fact the case must have considerable implications for our understanding and treatment of criminals-- for it is surely their response to authority that serves to define them as criminals in the first place.

The empirical evidence on the question, however, is not very helpful. The work of Adorno et al. and their successors is, of course, based on the F scale -- a scale which must hold some sort of record for the amount of criticism it has attracted (Christie and Jahoda, 1954; McKinney, 1973). Because it is a 'mixed bag' of items, some of which express approval of authority, some of which express aggression and some of which express yet other things, what it in fact measures or is sensitive to in any particular situation must always remain speculative. In the case of the San Quentin prisoners, for example, one could find that it was the items expressing aggressive attitudes and not the pro-authority items which attracted high degrees of agreement. Billig (1978) has given a very extensive critique of the fallacy inherent in lumping together aggression and acceptance of authority as coexistent elements of a single 'Fascist' personality.

As well as its conceptual confusions, the F scale also has a severe problem at the methodological level --the fact that it is 'unbalanced' (Christie, Havel and Seidenberg, 1956) and that a high score on it may indicate nothing more than a tendency towards indiscriminate acquiescence (Ray, 1983a). Thus. if it is accepted that the scores of the San Quentin prisoners were especially high (but see Ray. 1980c), such scores could very parsimoniously be attributed to nothing else than a defensive tendency to say 'Yes' when confronted with a task of unknown but potentially threatening import. In an institution as threatening as San Quentin, it is no doubt something of an adaptive survival strategy to appear agreeable to the authorities.

Yet another issue is to ask how relevant it is anyhow to question prisoners merely about their attitudes. Given the attitude-behaviour discrepancy (Ray. 1976), what we should also be doing is surely to ask them about their characteristic behaviour. Since we cannot infer attitudes from behaviour or vice versa, we surely need to study both separately. We must ask not only whether prisoners have generally anti-authority attitudes but also whether they characteristically behave in an anti-authority manner. The present study was designed, then, with the hope of illuminating both these questions to at least some extent.


Measuring Instruments

In this study, the attitudes of prisoners were measured not by one but by two scales. These were a balanced version of the F scale (Ray, 1972, 1979b) called the BF scale and a completely separate instrument called the Attitude to Authority (or AA) scale. The BF scale was included as providing some point of contact with previous research while the AA scale was designed to do what the BF scale could not -- provide a simple measure of positive or negative attitude to authority without any overlay of aggression, hostility or the other supposed components of the 'Fascist' personality. The AA scale is open to the criticism that its items concentrate too heavily on attitude to the Army, but Rigby and Rump (1979) have shown that attitude to the Army is highly predictive of attitudes towards other sorts of institutional authority. The BF scale was used in its 14-item short form while the AA scale was used in its 20-item short form.

Authoritarian personality (habitual behaviour tendency) was measured by yet a third scale. This was the Ray (1976) Directiveness scale. This scale had been specifically developed to be valid as a predictor of actual authoritarian behaviour and was hence in behaviour inventory format rather than attitude scale format. Although it did therefore suffer some disadvantage by reason of its 'overtness', it has nonetheless proved to be in fact a much more powerful predictor of domineering behaviour than the F scale (Ray, 1976; Ray and Lovejoy, 1983). This scale also was used in a 14-item short form.

A short (8-item) Lie scale (Greenwald and Satow, 1970) was also administered.

The Prison Sample

The sample was selected in the hope of obtaining at least some comparability with the San Quentin group studied by Adorno et al. (1950). To this end, Parramatta Gaol in Sydney was selected. Parramatta is a gaol for male recidivists and has a considerable reputation for 'toughness'. There is generally little doubt that Parramatta inmates are what would be perceived as 'real' criminals by most people. Because it was thought that non-volunteers were unlikely to give valid responses, inmates were interviewed on a voluntary basis only. This meant that only 70 of the roughly 200 prisoners available took part. As general population sampling also usually involves a substantial volunteer artifact, this feature of the present sample was thought to assist rather than impede comparisons with other populations.

To further assist comparisons with random doorstep samples in the community at large, the questionnaire containing the scales was administered to each prisoner individually rather than in a group session.

General Population Samples

The scores obtained by any group on attitude and personality scales have little meaning unless there is something to compare them with. General population norms are needed if we are to say that prisoners have especially pro- or anti-authority orientations.

Unfortunately, general population norms for tests of attitude and personality seem extraordinarily hard to come by in general. Even such widely used batteries as the Jackson (1967) PR F or such widely-used single scales as the Spielberger, Gorsuch and Lushene (1970) STAI seem to have been normed on college students only. The tests chosen for use on the present occasion were then chosen not because they had at that time been fully normed on general population samples but because they had at least seen some use with such samples. Thus, although ideal norms for them were not available, at least some idea of how people generally responded to the scale items could be obtained. To supplement the existing work, however, two fresh community samples were also gathered. Even the new samples did however have limitations -- particularly smallness of size -- when considered as sources of norms. To have any sort of norms at all in this field was however considered something of an advance.

The first new study was a random doorstep cluster sample of the Sydney area in which the Directiveness scale was administered and the second was a random doorstep sample of the Sydney metropolitan area in which the AA scale was administered. Both were carried out in the same year as the prisoner study. The sampling methods were modelled on those of Australia's public-opinion polls (see Ray, 1975) -- which have a generally very good record for predictive accuracy. All interviewing was carried out by trained and supervised student interviewers.

The first general population sample gathered for this study comprised 98 males and 108 females. The mean age of the sample overall was 37.15 yr and the mean score on education was 2.75 where education was scored 1 = primary, 2 = some secondary, 3 = full secondary and 4 = tertiary. Mean occupational status was 1.65 where occupation was scored 1 = manual and 2 = non-manual. The dichotomy of occupation into manual vs non-manual is probably the one most commonly used in the sociological literature and Ray (1971b) has shown it to be a good predictor of class-related variables in Australia. For comparison, the prisoner means were: age 28.60, education 1.72 and occupation 1.17. As is usually found, therefore, the prisoner group was more poorly educated and tended toward manual occupations. For both groups, occupation had been assessed as what the respondent reported their most usual occupation to be. For prisoners, of course, this meant their occupation outside prison.

By comparison with the numbers normally encountered in public-opinion polling, the present N of 206 for the general population sample may seem low but it is nonetheless sufficient to show significant effects explaining as little as 2.5% of the variance. Larger samples would then have been superrogatory to the purpose of the study [see also Ray (1983b, p. 172)].

The second general population comprised 102 Ss - -56 males and 46 females. Mean age, education and occupation were 35.19, 2.60 and 1.71.

Because the prisoner sample was obviously going to be unlike the general population samples on which the various scales had been developed, a final methodological issue of some importance appeared to be how well the scales would survive the transition. If the scales did not function similarly among the prisoners, we would expect a substantial drop in their internal consistencies. For this reason, then, each scale was examined for its internal consistency reliability [Cronbach's (1951) coefficient alpha] on the prison sample. Nunnally (1967) gives detailed reasoning to support the view that ALPHA is in fact the best reliability statistic there is - better even than test-retest reliability.


The reliabilities (alpha) of the scales used were on the prisoner sample as follows: BF 0.61, AA 0.82, Directiveness 0.74 and Lie scale 0.67. The figure for the BF scale was much lower than is generally observed (see Ray, 1979b. 1980c).

The mean scores on the three authoritarianism scales were: BF 39.61 (SD = 6.23), AA 57.14 (11.04), Directiveness 28.74 (5.91). This may be compared against a mid-range score of 42, 60 and 28, respectively. Prisoners were then below the midpoint on the BF and AA scales but were almost exactly on the midpoint as far as the Directiveness scale was concerned. All three means were however close enough to the midpoint to give some warrant that the scales were distributing the respondents satisfactorily. An exceptionally high or an exceptionally low mean would of course have suggested that the scales were not discriminating in the required range.

All three scales correlated significantly with social desirability set as measured by the Lie scale. The coefficients were: BF 0.415; AA 0.325; and Directiveness -0.236. This meant that authoritarian attitudes were seen as desirable but authoritarian behaviour was not. This is similar to the usual general population finding (Ray, 1976). Social desirability set, then, inflated claims of pro-authority attitudes and deflated claims of authoritarian behaviour.

Moving to the general population samples, it was found on the first of these samples that there was a low but significant correlation (-0.227) between sex and Directiveness score. Males were more domineering. This being so, only the data from the males in this sample were used for purposes of comparison with the prisoners. The mean for the 98 males in the sample was then 30.50 (SD = 5.33). This mean was significantly higher than the prisoner mean ('t' = 2.01; p < 0.05). Prisoners were then abnormally low in their tendency to dominate others.

This problem of sex bias did not arise with respect to the AA scale. On the second general population sample, the point biserial correlation between scores on this scale and sex was -0.088 -- which is not significant. Because, then, there were no sex differences in attitude to authority, it made no difference whether the whole sample or only the males sub-sample were used to estimate general population attitude to authority. The mean on the AA scale was then found to be 63.88 (SD = 10.38) for the general population sample as a whole. This was highly comparable with the mean on the same group of items obtained from the 1970 doorstep sample reported in Study II of Ray (1974, Chap. 43). The mean on that occasion was 64.76 (SD = 9.81; N = 118). It would then seem that a stable and replicable estimate of community attitudes to authority has been obtained. Compared with the mean of the present (1979) sample, then, the prisoners were shown to have attitudes that were highly anti-authority. The 't' for the difference between the two groups was 4.21---which is significant at the 0.001 level. The general population tends to accept authority while the prisoners tend to reject it.

For the BF scale, the best normative data seemed to be that gathered for the Sydney sample of Ray (1979a). This again was a random doorstep cluster sample but was gathered in 1976 and had an N of 95. There were 52 males and 43 females. The mean education (scored as above) was 3.12 and the mean occupation was 1.78. The mean age was 34.70 yr. As the correlation between the BF scale and sex was 0.068. dissecting the sample into males and females was again pointless. The mean observed for the short BF scale was then 37.42 (SD = 8.20). Comparing this with the prisoner mean gave rise to a t of 1.85 -- which is not significant. Prisoners are then no more likely to be 'Pre-Fascist' in ideology than are the general population. The great difference observed between the two groups by Adorno et al. (1950) might then be attributed to their failure to control for acquiescence.

As such a 'negative result' seemed in some need of checking, a second comparison was carried out. The prisoner mean was compared with the mean obtained for the short BF scale in the Australia-wide postal survey reported in Ray (1980c). This mean was 41.57 (7.97). The 't' for the difference was 1.86 --- which is again non-significant. Comparing the two general population samples with one another, however, it may be noted that the Sydney residents are shown as more liberal on the F scale than are Australians in general. This itself may be no more than a reflection of urban-rural differences, as the Australian-wide sample did of course include rural respondents. At any event, the fact that the prisoner mean fell squarely between the two general population means could hardly represent a stronger warrant for concluding that the prisoners were not particularly authoritarian (conservative?) in the F-scale sense.

A remaining issue is the effect of social desirability response set on the cornparisons made. Were the prisoners answering honestly? Adorno et al. (1950) and other F-scale users such as Aumack (1955) seem to have paid little attention to this question. The present study, by contrast, was both designed to minimize lying and included a measure of tendency to lie. The design features used were that testing was carried out in individual privacy by interviewers who were rather obviously students and that volunteers only were used. It was felt that students would be less threatening as interviewers and would have less likelihood of being suspected of working for the system.

Were then the prisoners unusually dishonest under the given conditions? Unfortunately, only five out of the eight social desirability items were also answered by any of the general population samples. The third-mentioned general population sample (N = 95) was the sample concerned. The prisoner mean on these five items was then 9.69 vs 10.27 for the general population sample. As these two means are very close indeed, we may conclude that the means of both the prisoner and general population samples were affected by social desirability set to a very similar degree. Social desirability set variations become then unlikely as an explanation of either the differences or the similarities between the prisoner and general population means. Generally, the prisoners were no more dishonest than other people when speaking of themselves.

A remaining comparison of interest is to see if the results so far are a product of the fact that the prisoner group was less well educated and from less-desired occupations. In the general population samples, there were two significant correlations between the differentiating scales and demographic variables. The AA scale correlated -0.34 with education and the Directiveness scale correlated 0.29 with occupation. Less-educated people respected authority more, and more dominant people had higher-status occupations. Since the relationship between criminality and low dominance is in any case of only marginal significance, it can be seen that control for the effect of occupational status would reduce the relationship to non-significance. In being non-dominant. the prisoners were simply typical of people in low-status occupations. The same, however, is not true of attitude to authority. In this case. the disrespect shown by prisoners was atypical of the situation among poorly-educated people. This is perhaps best seen if all relationships are expressed in terms of correlations. If we treat being in prison vs being in the general population as a 'dummy' variable, scored respectively 1 and 0. the correlation between criminality (the dummy variable) and attitude to authority becomes -0.31. Similarly, criminality and education (among males only) correlate -0.54. The effect of education can now be removed by partial correlation and we find that the correlation between criminality (being in prison) and attitude to authority rises to -0.62. This is a very high correlation indeed by the standard of what is generally reported in psychological research and could hardly be more contrary to what Adorno et al. (1950) would have us believe. Particularly when their low level of education is considered. criminals are extremely anti-authority in their attitudes.


The greater degree of methodological caution in the present study would appear to have given rise to results far different from those reported by Adorno et al. (1950). When social desirability and acquiescent sets are controlled for and when random sampling is used to calculate general population means, prisoners do not score especially high on the F scale. It may be worth noting that the overall F-scale means reported by Adorno et al. were especially low --even when compared with a modern-day random sample of Californians (see Ray, 1980c). It is this, of course, which has previously been referred to by critics as the 'middle-class bias' in the original Adorno et al. sampling (Christie and Jahoda, 1954).

But surely, one might argue, criminals should be more 'Fascist'! Are not violent criminals doing precisely what the Nazis did'? This is a difficult question to answer briefly but perhaps as a starting point one should refer to the study of modern-day British Nazis by Billig (1978). Billig shows that Nazism is a far more complicated phenomenon than mere criminality and also shows that Nazis are not necessarily violent in disposition. Even if it is conceded that Nazism and criminality have much in common, however, it has never been clear (as Billig points out at some length) that what the F scale measures is generally coterminous with Nazism. Extensive evidence of both a historical and a statistical nature has been presented in Ray (1973) in support of the view that the F scale is in fact nothing more than a measure of a quite traditional form of conservatism. The so-called Rightist 'bias' of the F scale may in fact be the whole of what that scale measures! [See also Ray (1976) for a presentation of evidence that the F scale is not valid as a measure of authoritarian behaviour.] The present results with the F scale are then probably best interpreted as showing that criminals are not more conservative than the population at large on general social issues.

The results with the AA scale are however easy to interpret. They show what one ought to be able to expect if attitudes have anything at all to do with behaviour. They show that people whose lives are an embodiment of defying authority do in fact have extremely negative attitudes to authority. Although often not an obvious relationship, there is at least some relationship between attitudes and behaviour (Bentler and Speckart, 1979). Criminals (recidivist prisoners) are in every sense extreme anti-authoritarians. Obvious though this conclusion may in some cases seem, the converse would heretofore appear to have been believed (Adorno et al., 1950; Aumack, 1955). The reason for the previous belief was no doubt the way in which Adorno et al. combined into one the personality attributes which Billig shows really belong in different personalities. The man who accepts authority and the violent man are not at all one and the same. Billig's violent Fascist did in fact have a quite liberal ideology on most points! He would have been a low F-scale scorer.

How is it then that the Directiveness scale, which is a straightforward measure of the tendency to impose one's own will on others, did not show especially nigh scores among criminals? Even if it conceded that authoritarian attitudes have little to do with violent behaviour, surely authoritarian behaviour and violent behaviour have a lot in common! This conclusion, again, however, is simplistic. A more sophisticated account o1 the relationship between the two behaviours is to be found in the social-skills training literature -- where assertiveness is in fact generally defined as opposed to aggressive behaviour. [See, for example. Hollandworth (1977) or Wolpe (1973).] Assertiveness, then, is in this literature seen as expressing oneself without being aggressive or violent whereas aggression is resorted to by those who are unable to express themselves otherwise. It is a frustration response to a deficit in assertiveness skills. Assertiveness training then, is seen as a cure for aggression (e.g. Fredericksen, Jenkins. Foy and Eisler. 1976). It seem likely, however, that most people would want to say that authoritarian behaviour is more than assertive behaviour. Dominating others goes further than just expressing oneself. Even so, the same reasoning surely applies. It is the man who has no idea how to influence others or get on with them who becomes frustrated and has to resort to violence to make an impact. The dominant person may be aggressive but confines the aggression within acceptable bounds. There is, then, no immediate reason to think that criminals should be especially dominant. Their physical aggressiveness may sometimes enable them to dominate a situation but dominance is probably equally often achieved in more subtle ways that physical aggression would militate against.

Finally, it may be of some interest to compare the present findings with two previous studies of prisoners that have used the Wilson Conservatism scale as an attitude measure. There is an obvious conceptual relationship between the Conservatism scale and the measures of attitude to authority employed in the present study so one would expect similar results to have been reported. The two relevant studies are by Siddiqui, Haara and Schnabel (1973) and Wilson and Maclean (1974). Both, however, are marred by the fact that random population samples were not used for the 'normal' control groups with which the prisoners were compared. The Siddiqui et al. study, in particular, seems to have been done with no awareness of the requirements of sampling whatever. The authors make much of the fact that their prisoner sample was not significantly different in degree of conservatism from their 'sample' of school students but fail to take account of the fact that the mean Conservatism score for all their respondent groups was very low by the standards of what is normally reported for the Conservatism scale. Some distortion in the way Ss were selected must therefore be suspected. Nonetheless, taking the school students as the most 'normal' of the S groups tabulated by Siddiqui et al., their results do in fact accord with those of Wilson and Maclean (1974). Wilson and Maclean also found no overall difference in degree of conservatism between prisoners and controls but some differences when Conservatism subscales were considered. Taking the F scale as a measure of general conservatism and the AA scale as measuring a particular subarea of conservatism (see Ray, 1973), this is also what is found in the present study: prisoners are not particularly conservative overall and have different attitudes only in areas where their own self-interests are involved. Just as prisoners were low on acceptance of conventional authority in the present study, so they were low on acceptance of militarism and punitiveness in the Wilson and Maclean study. Why the prisoners in the Wilson and Maclean study were also more idealistic and religious, however, is unclear. Examination of Lie scale scores or the use of a control group more representative than a group of bus-driver trainees from whom middle scorers on psychoticism had been removed might have been enlightening.

In general, however, studies with the Wilson scale support the present finding that prisoners are thoroughly normal as far as social attitudes are concerned -- except on issues having a direct bearing on their position as criminals.


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