Psychology, A Journal of Human Behavior, Vol. 27, No. 4,1990, 71-72.


J. J. Ray

University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1 Kensington, New South Wales, Australia 2033

It is pointed out that the association between Nazi-type personalities and perceptual variables is itself a Nazi theory. The general failure to find confirmation of the theory is also noted. Some extensive work in support of the theory has recently been done by Rump. Defects in Rump's work are pointed out.

The prominent Nazi psychologist Jaensch (1938) appears to have originated the theory that variables from the psychology of perception have an important bearing on personality. To him there was an ideal Nazi personality or "type" which was characterized by precise and orderly perceptual abilities. The attractiveness of such theories to psychologists can perhaps be gauged by the fact that the theory was taken over substantially unchanged by the group of post-war Jewish psychologists centered around Else Frenkel-Brunswik (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford, 1950). The most notable innovation of this group was simply to reverse the value-judgments attached to the variables. What characterized the Nazi type was now called "intolerance of ambiguity" but the changed name still referred to much the same perceptual characteristics.

Given the great popularity of the Adorno et al. work, the, Jaensch theory received extensive empirical testing in the '50s and '60s. This research was summarized by Bochner (1965) as failing to confirm the predicted association. Authoritarians (Nazi types) were found not to be particularly rigid or intolerant of ambiguity. (Note that Brown [1965, p. 506] shows that the Adorno group used "rigid" and "intolerant of ambiguity" as synonyms). Brown (1965, p. 509) was even more subversive of the Jaensch theory when he set out evidence that there really was no such thing as a trait of rigidity. People who were rigid by one criterion were not rigid by another.

The old Nazi theory continues to have its advocates, however. Significant correlations between cognitive style measures and measures of authoritarianism do occasionally emerge. Such correlations, however, generally seem to be of the type produced by Rigby and Rump (1982) -- where the validity of the cognitive style measures is accepted exceedingly uncritically. Far from such acceptance being justifiable, Ray (1984) showed that the validity of the measures is most dubious. In particular, many of the supposed cognitive style measures contained items that looked very much like conservatism items. It could thus be a common conservatism artifact that caused cognitive style and authoritarianism measures to correlate.

Rump (1985), however, took Ray's criticisms to heart and carried out three more studies designed to answer them. He concludes: "Those who prefer to accept without question the legitimate organs of institutional authority, also tend to prefer a simple, well-ordered unambiguous world in many other respects. The only mystery is that this well-replicated finding is still questioned." Both Bochner (1965) and Rump (1985) cannot both be right so it behooves us to look into the basis for Rump's (1985) claims.

Rump's first study simply found that high scorers on the Rigby (1982) Attitude to Authority scale showed more religiosity and moral conservatism. As the strong association between conservatism and acceptance of authority is not disputed (Ray, 1973), this is a most unsurprising finding which in fact tells us nothing about cognitive style.

Rump's second study used an adapted version of McDonald's Intolerance of Ambiguity scale on 202 Italian tertiary students. This scale correlated .33 with the Rigby Attitude to Authority scale. The reliability of the McDonald scale was however below the level generally considered acceptable in even the preliminary version of a research instrument (Shaw & Wright, 1967) so what was being measured by it is not at all clear. There were certainly no validity checks run to show that the modified scale was in any way valid on the Italian sample.

Rump's third study used a new pictorial intolerance of ambiguity test and a new verbal intolerance of ambiguity test designed to have no items which referred to authority or other conservative themes. Neither measure appears to have any known validity and their intercorrelation is not given. The reliability of the pictorial measure was given (.55) but again suggests multidimensionality rather than unidimensionality. The reliability of the new verbal scale was not given. Again, therefore, the meaning of Rump's results in this study is doubtful. A lot of faith is required if we are to accept Rump's (1985) conclusion. Intolerance of ambiguity seems rather resistant to attempts to measure it. This may be worthwhile confirmation of Brown's (1965) suspicion that it does not exist at all.


Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper.

Bochner, 5., (1965). Defining intolerance of ambiguity. Psychological Record, 15, 393-400.

Brown, R. (1965). Social psychology. New York: Free Press.

Jaensch, E. R. (1938). Der gegentypus. Leipzig: Barth.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Conservatism, authoritarianism and related variables: A review and an empirical study. Ch. 2 in: G.D. Wilson (Ed.) The psychology of conservatism London: Academic Press.

Ray, J.J. (1984). Cognitive styles and authoritarianism: A comment on Rigby & Rump. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 283-284.

Rigby, K. (1982). A concise scale for the assessment of attitudes towards institutional authority. Australian J. Psychology, 34, 195-204.

Rigby, K. & Rump, E.E. (1982). Attitudes towards authority and authoritarian personality characteristics. J. Social Psychology, 116, 61-72.

Rump, E. E. (1985). Personality ramifications of attitude to authority: Studies in Australia and Italy. High School journal, 68(4), 287-292.

Shaw, M.E. & Wright, J.M. (1967). Scales for the measurement of attitudes. New York: McGraw Hill.

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