Article written in 1992 for Behavioral Research in Accounting and based on the pre-publication version of Harrison's paper. Not accepted for publication


J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W.

Harrison (1991) has responded to Gul & Ray (1989) with claims that use of the F scale as a measure of authoritarianism can sometimes be defensible. He notes that the various measures of authoritarianism use different definitions of the concept but fails to consider whether there is any reality to match the definitions. It is shown that authoritarianism in the F scale sense is a "unicorn" concept, with no counterpart in reality so it can, in fact, never be used in any research that is also scientifically valid.

Harrison (1991) has presented a useful attempt to "balance" the account by Gul & Ray (1989) of the limitations to the F scale (Adorno et al, 1950) as a measure of authoritarianism. We are sure that all readers will welcome the chance to see what the case for the customary method of measuring authoritarianism looks like. It is true that Gul & Ray did concentrate primarily on the case against the customary method.

Unfortunately, Harrison (1991) serves only to show again how weak is the case for the customary practice in this field. His basic approach is to compare the conceptualizations of authoritarianism used by different authors, show that they differ and argue that the conceptualization embodied in the well-established F scale is still a good one. This may be good philosophy but it is very poor science.

Harrison (1991) appears to subscribe to the "verbal magic" school of thought: If you have a name for a thing and a description of it, then it must exist. This is the "Unicorn" theory and Harrison (1991) overlooks the possibility that some conceptions of authoritarianism may be no more real than unicorns. This is shown by the fact that he devotes much space to describing the conceptions underlying various measures of authoritarianism but gives no real consideration to the validity of any of them.

He rightly detects that specialists in the field such as Ray and Rigby tend to use rather narrow, unexciting conceptualizations of what they are measuring as opposed to the broad, comparatively more interesting and exciting conceptualization that underlies the F scale of Adorno et al (1950). He seems, however, to have no inkling why this is so. It is because the evidence available suggests that the broad conceptualization used by Adorno et al (1950) is simply no longer available. It describes a psychological unicorn. It posits a covariance between phenomena that simply does not exist.

The most basic of these failures to covary concerns the supposed tendency of authoritarians to have at the same time both joyously submissive and aggressively dominant tendencies. The truth is the opposite. Far from a tendency to submit being a good positive predictor of tendency towards aggressive dominance, it is in fact a moderate negative predictor (Ray, 1976). Dominance and submission tend to be opposed, not allied. One more of many failures to covary that might be mentioned here is the failure of authoritarian attitudes as indexed by the F scale to covary with authoritarian behavior (Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). If the F scale measures any sort of authoritarianism, is it not odd that high scorers on it show little or no tendency to behave in authoritarian ways?

This is not to say that the F scale has no correlates but rather to say that it does not have the correlates that an authoritarianism scale would. It does, however, fairly reliably have the correlates that a scale of old-fashioned behavior should (Ray, 1983, 1988 & 1990). Anyone who now uses the F scale to measure authoritarianism will, then, simply be deceiving himself. So far all of its correlates seem explainable as effects of no more than an old-fashioned orientation. Not all authors have as yet considered that possibility however and these would presumably include the "supporters" of the F scale listed by Harrison (1991).

At this point it seems appropriate to reply to the quite outrageous accusation that Gul & Ray (1989) were being ethnocentric or in various ways subjective in calling the F scale "old-fashioned". Harrison (1991) has obviously not read the reasons given in the references cited for so characterizing the F scale. To give them again: Pflaum (1964) took collections of popular beliefs that had been made by previous authors, mostly in the U.S.A. of the 1920s. He used them to form items for a new scale. The scale so compiled correlated so highly with the F scale that Pflaum presented it as a parallel form of the F scale. The F scale is then revealed as a collection of old-fashioned popular beliefs or at least statements that strongly resemble them. This is an impeccably empirical conclusion with no involvement of ethnocentric or any other sort of subjective judgments.

The comments on acquiescent bias by Harrison (1991) also seem confused. His main point seems to be that it is "unfair" to single out the F scale for criticism when one-way-worded scales of other attributes are also used. We agree that any such "singling out" would indeed be unfair but know of no-one who has done so. Certainly, our criticisms apply to all one-way-worded scales.

The only substantial point made by Harrison (1991) in this connection is, then, his comments to the effect that the F scale in its original one-way-worded form should be preferred because balanced forms sometimes show a collapse of internal consistency -- particularly when applied cross-culturally. This extraordinary argument, however, is simply to glorify ignorance. It is saying that we would prefer not to know when a scale is failing to function properly. When we use a balanced F scale, we have a chance of noticing the failures. With a one-way-worded scale we have less (if anything) to warn us of malfunctions so we might well go on treating meaningless data as if it were meaningful. Is that ever desirable?


{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 personality New York: Harper.

Gul, F.A. & Ray, J.J. (1989) Pitfalls in using the F scale to measure authoritarianism in accounting research. Behavioral Research in Accounting 1, 182-192.

Harrison, G.L. (1991) The F Scale as a Measure of Authoritarianism in Accounting Research. Behavioral Research in Accounting 3, 13-24.

Pflaum, J. (1964) Development and evaluation of equivalent forms of the F scale. Psychol. Reports 15, 663-669.

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

Ray, J.J. (1983). Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.

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

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1983). The behavioral validity of some recent measures of authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120, 91-99.

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

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