The Journal of Social Psychology, 1986, 126(4), 563-564



School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Australia

THE TERM ETHNOCENTRISM implies that certain people judge all community groups by the standard of their own group. Thus any group that is different will be responded to in a similarly hostile fashion. To be ethnocentric thus implies that one will dislike all out-groups. To dislike just one out-group would be incoherent. Yet it is surely possible that a person could dislike one out-group only. Prejudice may not always be monolithic, yet there is no clear answer as to how monolithic it is. Psychologists have so closely identified racism with ethnocentrism that the two terms have become almost interchangeable. When scales to measure prejudice are constructed, items reflecting evaluation of various different out-groups are thrown in together with no apparent prior examination of how closely they in fact belong together. Ethnocentrism is thus very much the ruling explanation of prejudice among psychologists.

Unfortunately, there can now be little doubt that it is a false explanation. Its core assumption that low evaluation of out-groups is a reflection of a high evaluation of the in-group has repeatedly been shown to be false in recent years (e.g., Ray & Furnham, 1984). The theoretical foundation for expecting that a person's attitude toward Jews (for example) will tell you something about his attitude toward blacks is thus seriously undermined. An empirical test of the relationship is therefore presented below.

Scales to measure patriotism plus attitudes toward Jews, Aborigines (Australian blacks), Asians, and southern Europeans (cf. Ray, 1974) were combined with a conservatism scale (Ray, 1983) and mailed to a random sample of 200 people from the Australian state of Queensland. Each respondent received a preliminary letter and two copies of the questionnaire 1 month apart. There were 91 respondents to the first wave mailing and 22 to the second wave. The final sample closely approximated the demographic structure of the Australian adult population.

The reliabilities (alpha) of the six balanced scales were: Conservatism, .78; Patriotism, .65; Aborigines, .82; southern Europeans, .69; Jews, .72; and Asians, .82. Attitude to blacks (Aborigines) correlated with the other scales as follows: Patriotism, .09; Conservatism, .26; southern Europeans, .36; Jews, .37; and Asians, .48. Attitude to Jews correlated as follows: Patriotism, .00; Conservatism, .12; southern Europeans, .51; and Asians, .44.

Again, the core element of the ethnocentrism theory was undermined. Patriotism (love of one's own group) had nothing to do with prejudice against out-groups. With a critical level of .18 for significance at the <.05 level, conservatism was shown to be a slightly better predictor of racial attitude but only with respect to blacks. It did not significantly predict attitude toward any other group. The commonly assumed role of conservatism in racism is thus also seriously questioned.

Nonetheless, attitudes toward different groups did show some generalizability. The average correlation between attitudes toward the four groups was .46. Thus, the concept of prejudice survives where the concept of ethnocentrism does not. An average 20% of shared variance is, however, hardly enough to allow us still to treat prejudice as a unitary phenomenon in our research. There is ample room for different types of prejudice to have different correlates.


Are racists ethnocentric? Ch. 46 in Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

Ray, J.J. (1983) A scale to measure conservatism of American public opinion. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 293-294.

Ray, J.J. & Furnham, A. (1984) Authoritarianism, conservatism and racism. Ethnic & Racial Studies 7, 406-412.

Received February 3, 1986


The most recent versions of the racial attitude scales are to be found here.

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