American Journal of Sociology, 1987, Volume 93 Number 2. pp. 440-442.



University of New South Wales, Australia

Miller, Slomczynski, and Kohn (AJS 91 [November 1985]: 593-615) have reported a study in which people who tended to assent to a series of platitudinous statements were found to work in less demanding jobs. In other words, people who are less mentally alert tend to be given simpler tasks. This should surprise no one. The surprise is that the authors seem to believe that this tells us something, about conservatism and authoritarianism. The reason for this belief appears to be that the series of platitudinous statements used by the authors were either drawn from or similar to the items of the California F-scale (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford 1950). Miller et al. appear therefore to be relying on the Adorno et al. contentions that the F-scale measures authoritarianism and that conservatism and authoritarianism are by and large one and the same thing. How Miller et al. can do this when one considers the torrent of criticism that has been directed at the Adorno et al. work is a considerable mystery, however (Christie and Jahoda 1954; McKinney 1973; Altemeyer 1981).

Just to put the record straight, let us look at some of the currently available evidence on the assumptions that Miller et al. share with Adorno et al. For a start, the F-scale does not predict authoritarian behavior (Titus 1968; Ray 1976; Ray and Lovejoy 1983), and it does not predict conservative voting in the population at large (Ray 1973, 1983a; Hanson 1975). It is, thus, valid neither as a measure of authoritarianism nor as a measure of conservatism. Furthermore, there is no necessary connection and little if any empirical connection between conservatism and authoritarianism when both constructs are measured by valid scales applied to general population samples (Ray 1976, 1979, 1983a, 1984, 1985a; Shils 1954). What the F-scale does clearly measure is a tendency to indiscriminate agreement with vague statements. Rorer (1965 ) questioned this, but Peabody (1966) provided a strong rejoinder, and subsequent work has undermined the empirical basis of Rorer's contentions (Ray 1983 b, 1985b).

So, while one can agree with Miller et al. that people who show less evidence of mental complexity tend to have less complex jobs, what this tells us about conservatism or authoritarianism is very far from clear. The F-scale may well measure cognitive style variables, but it has only the most tenuous claims as a measure of conservatism or authoritarianism. Even as a cognitive style measure, however, the F-scale runs up against the problem that cognitive style variables such as rigidity or complexity seem to be highly multidimensional rather than unidimensional (Brown 1965, p. 509). People who are found to be highly rigid or complex by one criterion will be found to be quite the opposite by other criteria. It would therefore be imprudent to conclude anything at all on the basis of the F-scale data presented by Miller et al.


Adorno, T. W., E. Frenkel-Brunswik, D. J. Levinson, and R. N. Sanford. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper.

Altemeyer, R. A. 1981. Right-Wing Authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Brown, R. 1965. Social Psychology. New York: Free Press.

Christie, R., and M. Jahoda. 1954. Studies in the Scope and Method of "The Authoritarian Personality." Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Hanson, D. J. 1975. "Authoritarianism as a Variable in Political Research." Il Politico 40:700-705.

McKinney, D. W. 1973. The Authoritarian Personality Studies. The Hague: Mouton.

Peabody, D. 1966. "Authoritarianism Scales and Response Bias." Psychological Bulletin 65:11-23.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232.

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

Ray, J.J. (1979) Does authoritarianism of personality go with conservatism? Australian Journal of Psychology 31, 9-14.

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

Ray, J.J. (1983b) Reviving the problem of acquiescent response bias. Journal of Social Psychology 121, 81-96.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Achievement motivation as a source of racism, conservatism and authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology 123, 21-28

Ray, J.J. (1985) Defective validity in the Altemeyer authoritarianism scale. Journal of Social Psychology 125, 271-272.

Ray, J.J. (1985) Acquiescent response bias as a recurrent psychometric disease: Conservatism in Japan, the U.S.A. and New Zealand. Psychologische Beitraege 27, 113-119.

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

Rorer, L. G. 1965. "The Great Response Style Myth." Psychological Bulletin 63:12956.

Shils, E. 1954 Authoritarianism Right and Left: Pp. 24-49 in Studies in the Scope and Method of "The 'Authoritarian Personality," edited by R. Christie and M. Jahoda. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Titus, H. E. 1968. "F-Scale Validity Considered against Peer Nomination Criteria." Psychological Record 18:395-403.

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