(This article was written for the academic journals in 1990 but was not accepted for publication. It was one of several articles written in 1990 to see if more outspoken articles would be accepted. None were)


J.J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia


Evidence is reviewed concerning the unidimensionality of three purportedly related constructs: ethnocentrism, authoritarianism and cognitive rigidity. It is shown that each of the three variables is not multidimensional (in the sense of being resolvable into correlated sub-factors) but is rather non-existent (in the sense that measures of supposed "components" of it generally fail to correlate at all). The evidence marshalled is extensive and goes back many years but almost no-one seems to give it any regard. All three concepts are still widely and uncritically used. Psychometric findings would therefore appear to be almost totally ignored by psychologists generally. The possibility is considered that psychometricians might need to make greater efforts to communicate with other psychologists.


One of the more pernicious problems of human society would seem to be our tendency to dislike others on the basis of the group to which they are seen to belong. This phenomenon ("racism" for short) has sparked much enquiry from psychologists and the established view now seems to be that racism and its associated phenomena are "universal ineradicable psychological processes" (Brown, 1986. See also Tajfel & Fraser, 1978). For a little while Adorno et al (1950) and their followers endeavoured to persuade us that only "deviants" were racists but the phenomenon was just too pervasive for such an explanation to stick for long.

Adorno et al would, however, seem to be responsible for revitalizing the concept of "ethnocentrism" first promoted by Sumner (1906). Sumner noted the phenomenon of "tribal morality" (where members of the tribe treat other members according to high ethical standards but treat outsiders as "fair game") and generalized this to modern societies, arguing that our loyalty to our own race or nation is the cause of our treating outgroups badly. Adorno et al accepted much of Sumner's theory but claimed that only some people were ethnocentric and provided an attitude scale to identify them. Subsequently, "ethnocentrism" became almost social science jargon for "racism".

There has, however, been remarkably little notice taken of the assumptions involved in such a concept. It is assumed that attitudes to outgroups are monolithic (all "out" members are disliked) and that those who value the ingroup are the same as those who reject outgroups. Perhaps the assumptions just seem too "obviously true" even to be recognized for what they are. It will be submitted here, however, that both are false.

Racial attitudes monolithic?

There is now considerable evidence that racial attitudes can be highly differentiated. This is particularly notable in the stereotyping literature where the compilation of lists which show how much different groups are disliked has long been routine (e.g. Callan & Gallois, 1983). More importantly, such studies generally show that what is believed of each target group is quite variable, depending on the target group concerned (e.g. Gallois, Callan & Parslow, 1982; Callan & Gallois, 1983; Kippax & Brigden, 1977; Paulsen & Balch, 1984) and, furthermore, the differing descriptions of the targets tend to have a "kernel of truth" (Allport, 1954; Triandis & Vassiliou, 1967; Bond, 1986). "Monolithic" is hardly the word for this picture of racism. Clearly, a lot depends on the characteristics and actions of the target groups. See also Dion et al (1978); Lewin (1948); Radke- Yarrow (1960); Bettelheim (1947) and Yinger (1965).

Even from outside the stereotyping literature, however, we find evidence that racism is highly multidimensional rather than monolithic (Ray, 1974, Ch. 46; Ray & Lovejoy, 1986; Driedger & Clifton, 1984, Table III; Houser, 1979; Newman, Liss & Sherman, 1983; Trlin & Johnston, 1973). The research cited was done in Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand respectively so there is at least some cross-cultural generality to the finding. For instance, in the Australian data reported by Ray (1974, Ch. 46) it was found that attitude to Jews explained less than 9% of the variance in attitude to blacks. Again, "monolithic" is hardly the word for this picture of racism. Depending on the time, place, circumstances and target groups concerned, dislike of one outgroup may tell you a lot or little about dislike of another outgroup.

That knowing a man's attitude to blacks also tells you his attitude to Jews seems to be one of those things that psychologists generally are sure they know but this belief is in fact mistaken. It is only true in certain circumstances (e.g. when college students or the well- educated are the prime source of the data, as in the work of Adorno et al, 1950).

But does not the fact that there is usually some generality in attitudes to outgroups support the ethnocentrism theory? Not at all. Other theories give the same prediction. In its various forms, there has over the years been much support for the simple theory that culture clash is the cause of racism (e.g. Park, 1950; Manheim, 1960; Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Driedger & Clifton, 1984; Moghaddam & Stringer, 1988; Berry & Kalin, 1979). In other words, it may be not loyalty to the group and its ways that forms attitudes to outgroups but rather the fact that one is the product of one's own group's culture whether one likes it or not. In other words, one may like what is most familiar or similar to oneself without at the same time identifying oneself as a member of a particular group or evaluating one's own group particularly highly. The importance of active group loyalty in ethnocentrism theory may however be debatable so let us turn to what is the main issue: Does attitude to the ingroup predict attitude to the outgroup?

"Obviously", one might be tempted to say. Unfortunately the obvious (e.g. the flatness of the earth or "What goes up must come down") is not always true. So, then, is in-group chauvinism (patriotism) highly predictive of outgroup hostility ("racism")?

Do outgroup attitudes reflect ingroup attitudes?

It is in fact surprising how little connection there seems to be between evaluation of the ingroup and evaluation of the outgroup. For instance, in the general population survey reported by Ray & Lovejoy (1986), the average correlation between four scales measuring attitudes towards four different ethnic outgroups was .46 but the correlations between these scales and a scale of patriotism were respectively .09, .22, .00 and .20. Two of these were just significant (p <.05) and two were not significant. All were negligible in terms of variance explained. Nor is this a freak result. The Ray & Lovejoy study was conducted in Australia but Ray & Furnham (1984) also reported no significant correlation between patriotism and attitude to blacks in Britain. Other studies (from South Africa, Australia, Britain, Northern Ireland, Canada and Africa) showing orthogonality or near- orthogonality between real-life ingroup and outgroup attitudes include Heaven, Rajab & Ray (1985), Ray (1974, Ch. 46), Furnham & Kirris (1983), Cairns (1982), Driedger & Clifton (1984, Table III), Brewer & Collins (1981, p. 350).

Laboratory studies of group behaviour often do not allow the subject to choose or respond favourably to both the ingroup and the outgroup but when they do, the result is perhaps surprisingly similar to what was found in the community surveys already mentioned. The summary by Turner (1978, p. 249) is instructive: "Not only is ingroup favouritism in the laboratory situation not related to outgroup dislike, it also does not seem causally dependant on denigration of the outgroup". See also Brown, Condor, Mathews, Wade & Williams (1986). Clearly, the essential core of the ethnocentrism theory is not correct. Attitude to the ingroup has little or nothing to do with attitudes to outgroups and evidence to that effect has been available for some time. "Ethnocentrism" therefore does not exist as such. Its two supposed components, far from being separate but related, are in fact essentially unrelated.


The term "authoritarian" first came into widespread use among psychologists as the name for that supposedly covarying constellation of traits identified by Adorno et al (1950) as underlying both the racist and the potentially Fascist personality. These traits were: rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity, punitiveness, ethnocentrism, antisemitism, conservatism, hostility, projectivity etc. That these traits did not in fact all covary was recognized soon by some (e.g. Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Titus & Hollander, 1957; Rokeach, 1960; Brown, 1965) and later confirmed by others (Ray, 1976; Altemeyer, 1981; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983).

For instance: Christie & Jahoda (1954) and Rokeach (1960) pointed out that authoritarianism was at least as common on the political Left (in the form of Communism) as on the Right; Titus & Hollander (1957) pointed out that the central measuring instrument in the Adorno et al work (the F scale) correlated mainly with other pencil and paper tests rather than with behaviour (later confirmed by Titus, 1968 and Ray & Lovejoy, 1983); Brown (1965) summarized a number of studies calling into question the relationship between rigidity and authoritarianism (See also Ray, 1972a & b; Wright & Phillips, 1979; Tiwari & Singh, 1963; Schneider, Kohler & Wachter, 1979; Lamberth, Krieger & Shay, 1982 and Muhar, 1974) and Ray (1973 & 1974 Ch. 46) and Altemeyer (1981) showed that many Adorno et al "findings" were either true by definition, artifactual or had trivial explanations.

Little or none of these adverse findings seemed to make its way into the heads of most users of the Adorno et al theories and measuring instruments, however. The Adorno F scale and the theory that goes with it still receive much uncritical use and even laudatory mention to this day (e.g. Mercer & Kohn, 1980; Browning, 1983; Maier & Lavrakas, 1984; Sidanius, 1985; Kelley, 1985; Meloen et al, 1988; Fisher et al, 1988; Witt, 1989 and Van Ijzendoorn, 1989). "Authoritarianism", then, is something like the chemists' "phlogiston" -- except that chemists no longer believe in the existence of phlogiston.


Although it certainly did not originate with them, Adorno et al were probably chiefly responsible for popularizing this concept too -- at least among American psychologists. As Brown (1965) shows, they used it interchangeably with "intolerance of ambiguity". The idea was that a belief or perception becomes so resistant to change that discordant information or evidence is denied or resisted. Such an attribute was held to lead to defective ability to deal with reality.

Again the big problem with this concept is that different measures of it tend not to intercorrelate (Kenny & Ginsburg, 1958; Brown, 1965; Angleitner, 1973; Muhar, 1974; Hageseth, 1983; Stewin, 1983; Walton, 1982; Goldsmith & Nugent, 1984; Kline & Cooper, 1985; Chambers, 1985; Chen & Olson, 1989). There may be individual rigidities in different areas or in particular situations but someone who is rigid by one criterion will be flexible by another criterion. This is also shown by the fact that the most popular measure of intolerance of ambiguity -- Budner's (1962) scale -- showed very low internal consistency (internal reliability) even in its initial scale construction study. Its reliability falls well below what would be considered satisfactory in even the preliminary version of a research instrument. Despite that, the scale is still widely used.

The situational nature of rigidity is well shown by contrasting the findings of Adorno et al -- which showed authoritarians as cognitively simple and resistant to change -- with various studies that show authoritarians to be flexible. When are they flexible? When responding to influence from a prestigious figure such as an experimenter or lecturer (Erthal, 1984; Higgins & McCann, 1984; Katz & Benjamin, 1960). And Ray (1972b) showed that authoritarians can be very cognitively complex and prone to making fine discriminations. When? When rating authority-related stimuli. We have already seen that Adorno et al misconceived what went with a pro-authority attitude but their idea that an authoritarian is rigid is in retrospect one of the worst examples of this. Surely the one person who has to be almost infinitely flexible is the authority-obeyer. He has to be ready to do anything he is told. Where is the opportunity for rigidity or resistance there? When Hitler and Stalin were allies and Soviet fuel was propelling Hitler's tanks on their Blitzkrieg through France, Communists in the Western world supported Hitler as a fraternal socialist and did all they safely could to impede the Allied war effort. When Hitler invaded Russia, however, those self-same Communists did a complete and instantaneous about-face and, calling Hitler "an enemy of the people", thenceforth did all they could to ensure his defeat. As any good authoritarian must be where "orders" were involved, they were infinitely flexible in their attitudes.

This was also true of the Nazis. Contrary to the Hollywood stereotype, the Nazi armies were far from being filled with rigid bunglers. Their remarkable initial successes against overwhelming odds (Dupuy, 1986) should alone suggest that but see also Singer & Wooton (1976) and Hughes (1986). Both on the home front and in the field Hitler's Germany can be shown to be flexible and improvisational rather than rigid and formal.

So if there are some situations where authoritarians (in the narrow sense of people who accept authority) can be shown as rigid, there are also others where they can be shown as flexible. See also Lamberth, Krieger & Shay (1982); Riester & Irvine (1974); Rogers & Wright (1975) and Schneider, Kohler & Wachter (1979). There just is no general trait of rigidity. Rigidity is measure-specific and situation-specific. See also Suedfeld & Rank (1976) and O'Keefe & Sypher (1981).


It is clear that psychology has a considerable population of unicorns -- things which do not exist but yet have names and descriptions. Those who examine tests and measures of various constructs seem to publish their iconoclastic findings freely but might as well be censored for all the notice that is taken of them. That a concept, scale or measure exists and has been previously used seems generally to be taken as sufficient evidence that the concept, scale or measure is meaningful, accurate and generally worth using. To a very considerable extent, this means that psychological theories are disconfirmation-proof. They are, in short, not scientific. If, then, psychometricians have generally done a reasonable job of pointing out the empirical unsustainability of various concepts and the invalidity of the scales which measure them, why are they so widely ignored?

One reason could be that psychology has not yet matured into a true science but perhaps another reason should be considered too. Do psychometricians make adequate attempts to communicate with other psychologists and with psychology students? Do psychometricians tend to retreat into an ivory tower where they occupy most of their time with arcane problems that are too abstruse for anyone but specialists to contemplate? Obviously the answers to such questions will vary with each individual concerned but perhaps more concern for the everyday measurement problems of researchers who are not psychometric specialists might result in more generally usable and justifiable scales of psychological constructs emerging. If so, there might be at least the possibility that good might drive out bad. Faulty scales might tend to be at long last abandoned and better scales might come to be used in their stead.


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