J. Applied Social Psychology 1990, 20, 1453-1455.


J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W., Australia


Witt shows that scores on the F scale predict negative affect towards AIDS. He interprets this in the light of the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno et al despite the discredited nature of that theory. An alternative explanation of the findings in the light of the view that the F scale measures primarily an old-fashioned orientation is offered.

It is truly amazing that research which depends on the work of Adorno et al (1950) should still be finding its way into print without at the same time showing any awareness of the decades-long torrent of criticism that has been directed at the Adorno et al work. A recent paper in this journal (Witt, 1989) is only one of several such feats of unawareness that have recently seen the light of day. See, for instance, Van Ijzendoorn (1989), Meloen et al (1988) and Fisher et al (1988).

It would be superfluous for me to set out yet again what is wrong with the Adorno et al theory (See Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Titus & Hollander, 1957; Rokeach, 1960; Brown, 1965; Titus, 1968; McKinney, 1973; Ray, 1976; Altemeyer, 1981; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983) but it may suffice to observe that the theory was developed as an explanation of racism and claims that racism is deviant. Students of intergroup relations now hardly ever mention the theory (See Brewer & Kramer, 1985; Messick & Mackie, 1989 and Tajfel, 1982) and the textbook view of the phenomena of racism now seems to be that they are "universal ineradicable psychological processes" (Brown, 1986). See also Tajfel & Fraser (1978). Witt (1989), therefore, shows not only his ignorance of the authoritarianism literature but also his ignorance of the literature on prejudice (which he purports to study). This seems to be, unfortunately, yet another instance (See Ray, 1986) of the non- cumulative (and hence non-scientific) nature of much current psychological research.

Since the interpretation of his findings given by Witt is not soundly-based, is there another, more sustainable, explanation available? There is.

What Witt found was that scores on a one-way-worded version of the Adorno F scale correlated with negative affect towards AIDS. I have on several occasions (e.g. Ray, 1983, 1987 & 1988) set out evidence in favour of the view that the F scale measures primarily an old-fashioned orientation. Such a view also makes sense of the Witt (1989) results. As Witt himself points out, there is a substantial perception of AIDS as a "gay" disease. Yet acceptance of homosexuality is essentially a recent phenomenon. Homosexuality is still in many places around the world illegal. So anyone lost in the culture of the past is being influenced by an anti-homosexual culture. So all that Witt has really shown is that old-fashioned people dislike homosexuality and all that is associated with it. This is a much less arcane explanation of the findings than the Adorno-influenced one that Witt offers but it does have the advantage of according with the evidence on what the F scale measures. It is doubtful, however, that this interpretation can support the contention by Witt to the effect that his findings have implications for health education.

To sum up the difficulties for Witt's account: 1). The F scale is not valid as a measure of authoritarianism (see e.g. Titus, 1968 or Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). 2). As well as the problems with the F scale, the Adorno et al theory has been shown to be wrong in a large number of other ways -- e.g. it says that prejudice is deviant when in fact it is normal.


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

Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Brewer, M.B. & Kramer, R.M.(1985) The psychology of intergroup attitudes and behavior. Annual Review of Psychology 36, 219-243.

Brown, R.(1965) Social psychology N.Y.: Free Press.

Brown, R.(1986) Social psychology (2nd. Ed.) N.Y.: Free Press.

Christie, R. & Jahoda, M. (1954) Studies in the scope and method of "The authoritarian personality" Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Fisher, W.A.; Byrne, D.; White, L.A. & Kelley, K. (1988) Erotophobia -erotophilia as a dimension of personality. J. Sex Research 25, 123-151.

McKinney, D.W. (1973) The authoritarian personality studies The Hague: Mouton.

Meloen, J.D., Hagendoorn, L., Raaijmakers, Q. & Visser, L. (1988) Authoritarianism and the revival of political racism: Reassessment in the Netherlands of the reliability and validity of the concept of authoritarianism by Adorno et al Political Psychology 9, 413-429.

Messick, D.M. & Mackie, D.M. (1989) Intergroup relations. Annual Review of Psychology 40, 45-81.

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

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

Ray, J.J. (1986) Measuring achievement motivation by self-reports. Psychological Reports 58, 525-526.

Ray, J.J. (1987) Intolerance of ambiguity among psychologists: A comment on Maier & Lavrakas. Sex Roles 16, 559-562.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.

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

Rokeach, M. (1960) The open and closed mind N.Y.: Basic Books.

Tajfel, H. (1982) Social psychology of intergroup relations. Annual Review of Psychology 33, 1-40.

Tajfel, H. & Fraser, C. (1978) Introducing social psychology Harmondsworth, Mddx.: Penguin.

Titus, H.E. (1968). F scale validity considered against peer nomination criteria. Psychological Record, 18, 395-403.

Titus, H.E. & Hollander, E.P. (1957) The California F scale in psychological research: 1950-1955. Psychological Bulletin 54, 47-64.

Van Ijzendoorn, M.H. (1989) Moral judgment, authoritarianism and ethnocentrism. J. Social Psychology 129, 37-45.

Witt, L.A. (1989) Authoritarianism, knowledge of AIDS and affect towards persons with AIDS: Implications for health education. J. Applied Psychology 19, 599-607.


Witt replied to this article -- leading to a rejoinder to be found here

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