(Article written in 1999 for publication in The Journal of Clinical Psychology but not accepted for publication)
ARE RACISTS MALADJUSTED? COMMENT ON HIGHTOWER
University of New South Wales, Australia
Hightower (1997) purports to show that tolerant people are psychologically more healthy than intolerant people. He ignores a large amount of literature suggesting that prejudice is essentially normal rather than psychopathological and quotes as support for his arguments research that is already known to be seriously flawed. Some references ignored by Hightower that do not support his theory are listed and it is shown that his own research depends on a measuring instrument already known to be unsound.
In a recent paper in The Journal of Clinical Psychology, Hightower (1997) purported to show that tolerant people are psychologically healthier than prejudiced people. This is a popular theory with a long history of research behind it but Hightower, regrettably, seems to have little interest in the previous literature relevant to his work and, in consequence, produces new research of his own which is incapable of supporting his conclusions. Some corrective to such a misleading paper does therefore seem both proper and needed.
A notable feature of Hightower's paper is its selective citation of the literature. Previous research which reported conclusions at variance with his theory is simply ignored. Brief allusions to some of the ignored literature seem therefore in order here: Billig (1978) found British Neo-Nazis to fall generally within the normal range of mental health; Ray (1973) found the same among Australian Neo-Nazis; Masling (1954) found no correlation between anxiety and authoritarianism; Ray (1972) found that racially tolerant respondents tended towards militarism rather than anti-militarism; Elms (1970) found that Right-wing extremists had normal mental health; Ray (1981) found no tendency for racists to score high on the Eysenck & Eysenck (1976) 'P' scale (which normally reflects, tough, aggressive, uncaring behaviour); Ray (1988a) reported two general population studies in Germany and South Africa respectively in which it was found that German racists were especially low on neuroticism and that South African racists were unpolarized on neuroticism and Peterson (1990) found that Republican voters in the U.S.A. were especially well-adjusted. Some other papers tending to show that racism is normal rather than mentally unhealthy are: Charny (1982), Crocker & Schwartz (1985), Duckitt (1983 & 1985), Elwert (1982), Freedman (1984), Furnham & Kirris (1983), Kinloch (1986), Kitano (1966), Maykovich (1975), Mihalyi (1984/85), Rule, Haley & McCormack (1971), Sidanius, Ekehammar & Brewer (1986), Taylor (1980), Thomas (1974), Van Staden (1987), Volkan, (1985).
So what are we to make of the few references which Hightower marshals in support of his theory? He does of course allude to the well-known authoritarianism theory of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) but this theory must hold some sort of record for the number of times it has been attacked as not according with the facts. See, for example, Titus & Hollander (1957); Altemeyer (1981) and Ray (1976 & 1988b). Hightower seems unaware that such criticisms have ever occurred.
The work that Hightower cites most and appears to rely on most, however, is that of Gough & Bradley (1993). In evaluating this work it may suffice to quote what I have already written elsewhere: "Gough & Bradley (1993) constructed a scale of rated racist behaviour and correlated it with a form of the California 'F' scale (usually described as measuring authoritarianism). They found a correlation between the two of essentially zero (.08) and were reduced to trawling through a vast matrix of correlations with individual items in order to find some shred of (statistically dubious) evidence that would support the California theory of authoritarianism (Adorno et al., 1950)" (Ray, 1994, p. 231). Relying on the conclusions of such an intellectually disreputable approach to research was surely most unwise.
Hightower also quotes the work of Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck &
Vetter (1989). Ray (1990) has however pointed out that this work relied on a most peculiar scale of racism consisting of items that almost nobody agreed with and suggested that presenting the relationships in correlational form would show them as negligible. Hightower, of course, shows no awareness of such considerations.
All this ignoring of the literature might perhaps be forgiven if Hightower's own research was well-conceived. Unfortunately, it was not. It relied for its measure of personal adjustment on the Shostrom (1964) POI. Unfortunately, the scales of this instrument have been shown to have reliabilities far lower than would be acceptable even in the preliminary version of a measuring instrument and to have other psychometric problems such as a factor structure quite different from that proposed by Shostrom (Ray, 1984 & 1986). What, if anything, the POI "scales" measure is then essentially unknown.
Hightower's conclusions, then, are not supported by the available data and it seems unlikely that racism is in general associated with poor mental health.
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