(Article written for publication in Personality & Individual Differences in 1993 but not accepted for publication)


John J. Ray

University of New South Wales


Wilson (1992) questions the validity of the Ray-Lynn "AO" scale because results obtained from it conflict with McClelland's theory that economic growth is explained by high achievement motivation. The "AO" scale has been well validated and there is a mass of good evidence to show that the McClelland theory is generally the reverse of the truth.

In his "Special Review" of Lynn (1991), Wilson (1992) notes Lynn's finding of high achievement motivation among females, notes that this seems contrary to McClelland's (1961) well known theory that correlates national levels of achievement motivation with national levels of economic growth and suggests that this conflict with McClelland's theory may call into question the validity of the achievement motivation scale that Lynn used.

It seems relatively rare for anyone to "reply" to a book review but since a person of Wilson's eminence in the psychological community so heartily accepts the McClelland theory, it seems highly likely that many others do too. A mini-review of at least some of the evidence on the question may therefore be helpful to many.

Lynn measured achievement motivation not by use of the now discredited (Entwisle, 1972) projective tests principally relied upon by McClelland (1961) but rather by use of a behaviour inventory -- the Ray-Lynn "AO" scale. This scale has in fact been extensively validated -- with the principal reference being Ray (1979).

Wilson notes and mildly deplores the fact that Lynn used the scale on student samples only. "Samples" is something of a misnomer for Lynn's groups of subjects but, that aside, a much more important point is that Wilson seems unaware of the fact that the same scale has already been extensively and internationally used not only on real samples but also on real general population samples. What do these studies show?

Most of the results have been tabulated in Ray (1983) but further useful material can also be found in Ray & Kiefl (1984) and in Ray & Heaven (1984). Briefly, what the Ray (1983) tabulation shows is that achievement motivation was lowest in Australia, England and Scotland, highest in India, South Africa and the Philippines and middling in California. For purposes of control, all samples except those in India and the Philippines were of whites only. The sample taken in South Africa was not only of whites only but, because it was taken in Johannesburg, included mostly whites of British origin. A second sample was therefore taken (Ray & Heaven, 1984) in Bloemfontein -- where an almost wholly Afrikaner (Dutch-origin) sample was obtained. This Afrikaner sample showed the highest score on the "AO" scale yet obtained. As further supplement to the Ray (1983) tabulation, it may be noted that yet a further sample (Ray & Kiefl, 1984) was taken in West Germany -- where the lowest score so far observed for the AO scale was obtained.

What does all this mean? On McClelland's theory, the economically advanced populations of California, England, Scotland, Australia, South Africa and Germany should all have shown high achievement motivation scores and the very poor populations of India and the Philippines should have shown very low scores. Yet, generally, the opposite result was observed.

My suggestion is that we have to see things from the point of view of the populations concerned. This is particularly important to explaining the one glaringly "irregular" result -- the finding that South African whites alone among the more affluent populations showed high AO scores.

So what do the very affluent South African whites have in common with the almost desperately poor people of India and the Philippines? To ask the question is surely to suggest the answer: Insecurity. Life in very poor countries is insecure for economic reasons and life for South African whites feels insecure because of their precarious position as a small and affluent white minority in a generally very poor and black country. This produces anxiety and anxiety leads to achievement motivation.

Unfortunately for this explanation, the Bloemfontein study also included an improved version of the Taylor (1953) Manifest Anxiety scale and this scale showed absolutely no significant correlation with Achievement motivation.

So glib generalizations will not help us. We really have to know something about the populations concerned. I suggest that the key thing in this case is the fact that South African whites have almost no social welfare system. They very largely have to rely on their own or family resources if they get sick or become unemployed. This is, of course, anomalous in the developed world and probably reflects the very large demands on South Africa's budget made by its black "problem".

So, then, it is specifically economic insecurity that seems to go with high achievement motivation. Not being able to predict how well off you will be in the future leads you to strive strongly towards economic betterment, thus warding off possibly serious threats to your wellbeing. It is at least a theory that seems to fit the facts so far.


Entwisle, D.R.(1972) To dispel fantasies about fantasy-based measures of achievement motivation. Psychological Bulletin 77, 377-391.

Lynn, R. (1991) The secret of the miracle economy: Different national attitudes to competitiveness and money London: The Social Affairs Unit.

McClelland, D.C. (1961) The achieving society Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Ray, J.J. (1979) A quick measure of achievement motivation -- validated in Australia and reliable in Britain and South Africa. Australian Psychologist 14, 337-344.

Ray, J.J. (1983) Ambition and dominance among the Parsees of India. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 173-179.

Ray, J.J. & Heaven, P.C. L. (1984) Conservatism and authoritarianism among urban Afrikaners. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 163-170.

Ray, J.J. & Kiefl, W. (1984) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in contemporary West Germany. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 3-19.

Taylor, J.A. (1953) A personality scale of manifest anxiety. J. Abnorm. & Social Psychol. 48, 285-290.

Wilson, G.D. (1992) Special review of Richard Lynn's book "The secret of the miracle economy: Different national attitudes to competitiveness and money". Personality & Individual Differences 13, 389.

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