Behavioral Research in Accounting, 1989, 1, 182-192

Pitfalls in Using the F Scale to Measure Authoritarianism in Accounting Research

Ferdinand A. Gul

Griffith University

and John J. Ray

University of New South Wales


The personality variable of authoritarianism has been studied for its effects on budgetary participation. The California F Scale, which is used to measure authoritarianism, has been heavily criticized by many psychologists because it is a better indicator of conservatism, an old-fashioned outlook, and a tendency to say "yes" to anything rather than as a measure of authoritarianism. Given the problems of the F Scale in measuring authoritarianism, prior studies may have obtained equivocal results. Scales which are more valid and unequivocal in measuring authoritarianism do exist and their use should enable less ambiguous research findings to be obtained.

Behavioral accounting researchers in recent years have recognized the importance of incorporating measures of individual personality into models of decision making (Dermer, 1973; Pratt, 1980; Gul, 1984). This is based on the notion that personality variables would affect the way individuals make decisions and should therefore be taken into account to obtain meaningful results. Arising from this notion, several researchers have studied and found that personality was an important variable in the effects of participation in budgeting [Swieringa and Moncur, 1975; Brownell, 1981; Seiler and Bartlett, 1982 ]. Of the wide range of available personality constructs ( Foran and DeCoster, 1974, p. 754), authoritarianism is perhaps the construct that has been the most widely studied in the context of participative budgeting research [Vroom, 1960; Hofstede, 1967; Chenhall, 1986]. In this dimension individuals are classified as high or low authoritarians based on scores on the F (Fascism) Scale. High authoritarians are conceived of as preferring relationships based on power and authority [Sanford, 1956], as being highly competitive [Bixenstine and O'Reilly, 1966] and as being more autocratic. On the other hand, low authoritarians who do not share these attitudes prefer a more co-operative and informal environment. Unfortunately, results on the role of authoritarianism in participative budgeting have been inconsistent. Vroom [1960] and Hofstede [ 1967] have reported that participation in budgeting is effective for low authoritarians, while Foran and DeCoster [ 19741 and Abdel-Halim and Rowland [ 1976] report that authoritarianism had no effect. More recently, Chenhall [ 1986] found that budgetary participation is more strongly associated with job satisfaction and attitudes in homogenous than in heterogenous dyads (i.e., where the superior and subordinate are not matched in terms of authoritarianism).

The studies which depicted authoritarianism as a key personality variable measured it by way of the California F Scale [Adorno et al., 1950]. While the importance of authoritarianism as a key personality variable in explaining the behavior of individuals in participative budgeting is not in dispute, using the F Scale to measure authoritarianism seriously affects the validity of these studies. This is because the F Scale has probably attracted more criticism from psychometricians than any other scale. The equivocal results obtained to date on the role of authoritarianism in participative budgeting could perhaps be due to the problems of the F Scale. This paper summarizes the antecedents of the F Scale and draws attention to some of the pitfalls in using this scale to measure authoritarianism. More valid scales used to measure authoritarianism are suggested.


The F Scale which is strongly grounded in the work of Adorno et al. 1950] is a synthesis and refinement of a number of scales developed during and after the Second World War. These scales were developed in response to the rise of fascism and the interest of researchers to understand and identify the potentially fascist individual, the individual susceptible to antidemocratic propaganda:

If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up anti-democratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person? If such a person exists, how commonly does he exist in our society? And if such a person exists, what have been the determinants and what have been the course of his development? [Adorno et al., 1950, p. 2].

One type of antidemocratic thought that was identified is prejudice, and anti-Semitism was the specific type of prejudice that attracted the attention of Levinson and Sanford [ 1944 ]. Arising from this, they developed the Anti-Semitism (A-S ) scale which contained 52 items. Since the A-S scale attracted much criticism [Sanford, 1956] especially when administered to groups containing Jews, an alternative scale called the Ethnocentrism (E) Scale [ Levinson, 1955] containing 20 items was developed. The concept of ethnocentrism was a more generalized approach to the study of prejudice and was used to define the tendency to rigidly accept the culturally alike and reject the culturally different. The next step was to relate ethnocentrism to political and economic factors and the Politico-Economic Conservatism (PEC) Scale was developed to measure right-left, or conservative/liberal, attitudes. The instrument which was similar to the A-S and E scales was intended to measure allegiance to the status quo and resistance to social change.

The final step in the development of a scale to provide "a valid estimate of anti-democratic tendencies at the personality level" [Adorno et al., 1950; p. 223] was the F Scale. The commonly used items of the F Scale are taken from Forms 40 and 45 developed by Adorno et al. [ 1950 ]. Both Foran and DeCoster [ 1974] and Chenhall [1986 ], for example, used the items in the F Scale to measure authoritarianism. For each item the respondent is requested to indicate his or her degree of agreement or disagreement on + 3 to - 3 Likert type scale with + 3, (I strongly agree); +2, (I agree moderately); + 1, (I agree somewhat); - 1, (I disagree somewhat); -2, (I disagree moderately); and -3, (I disagree strongly). High scores are associated with high authoritarianism.


The main criticisms that psychologists have directed at the F Scale are: its Rightist political bias [Christie and Jahoda, 1954], its lack of behavioral validity [Titus and Hollander, 1957], its educational bias [Brown, 1965 ], and its failure to control against acquiescent response bias [Ray, 1984a ]. In short, it does not predict authoritarian behavior. However, it does express sentiments tending towards the political Right and sentiments characteristic of less-educated and unsophisticated people. Also, it does predict the tendency to say "yes" to anything. There have been many reviews of the evidence leading to that conclusion but typical are Christie and Jahoda [ 1954 ], Titus and Hollander [ 1957 ], McKinney [ 1973 ], Ray [ 1976 ], Altemeyer [ 1981], and Ray and Lovejoy [ 1983 ]. Some of the evidence obtained by Christie [ 1952 ], Thompson and Michel [ 1972 ], and Vannoy [ 1965 ], for example, suggest that the F Scale relates to intelligence, education, and socio-economic status. Results of studies on the validity of the F Scale [Jacobsen and Rettig, 1959; Kornhauser, Shephard, and Mayer, 1956; MacKinnon and Centers, 1956 ] led Marlowe and Gergen [ 1969] to conclude that the F Scale may reflect social culture norms rather than underlying authoritarian personality dimensions.

Other criticisms of the F Scale include the view that individuals scoring high on the scale may lack social intelligence or perceptions [Hollander, 1954 ]. Kelman and Barclay [ 1963] argue that the scale measures the extent to which individuals have wide or limited experiences. High scorers on the scale are relatively unsophisticated and are unable to see through the cliches that comprise items in the scale [ Stagner, 1965 ].

Less well-known but perhaps most important of all in evaluating what the F Scale really measures is the work of Pflaum [ 1964 ]. Pflaum showed that a scale comprised of items taken from collections of myths and superstitions popular in the 1920s correlated so highly with the F Scale that it could be regarded as a parallel form of the F Scale. In short the F Scale is par excellence a measure of old-fashioned outlook. People who score high on it are still lost in the culture of the 1920s. Hartmann [1977 ] puts the time-locus of the F Scale even further back --identifying it as a scale of "Victorian" values.

In research based on the F Scale it is probable that the effects attributed to "authoritarianism" are in fact due to an old-fashioned orientation or outlook. The so-called "authoritarians" were in fact just people with old-fashioned values. It might be argued that respect for authorities is old-fashioned and that the scale does still have some validity in its intended role. To argue in this way, however, ignores research findings to the effect that the F Scale does not predict authoritarian behavior (Ray and Lovejoy, 1983]. There is on some occasions a weak prediction of authoritarian submission [Titus, 1968 ], but this tends to vanish when controls are applied for one of the F Scale's other problems -- the problem of acquiescent response bias [Ray and Lovejoy, 1983]. In other words, there is some tendency for people who say "yes" to most things, to be submissive to authority, and it is thus the format rather than the content of the F Scale which gives it its slight degree of behavioral prediction. The wording of each item on the scale is such that agreement with each item contributes to a high authoritarian score. Cohn [ 1953; 1956] suggests therefore that the F Scale measures authoritarianism by virtue of acquiescence rather than content. Other studies by Bass [1955 ], Chapman and Bock [1958 ], and Zuckerman, Norton, and Sprague [1959 ] concluded that acquiescence contributed about half of the variance of authoritarianism score. In fact, it has been shown that even forms of the F Scale revised to remove the acquiescent bias problem (i.e., forms of the F Scale in which there are equal numbers of pro-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian items) are more highly correlated with education than the original F Scale was with tendency to submit (see Table 1 of Ray, 1983).

The evidence therefore indicates that there are problems with the conceptualization of the "authoritarian" person and the related F Scale to measure authoritarianism. Following the original definition of Adorno et al. (1950 ] the authoritarian would be a rather complex and "tortured" person with a range of characteristics including the desire both to dominate and to submit. This is evidenced by the following characteristics of the authoritarian person which the F Scale is purported to measure [Adorno et al., 1950, pp. 255-257]:

1. Conventionalism: Rigid adherence to conventional, middle-class values;

2. Authoritarian Submission: Submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the in-group;

3. Authoritarian Aggression: Tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values;

4. Anti-intraception: Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded;

5. Superstition and Stereotype: The belief in mystical determinants of the individual's fate; the disposition to think in rigid terms;

6. Power and "Toughness": Preoccupation with the dominance/submission, strong-weak, leader-follower dimension; identification with power figures; overemphasis upon the conventionalized attributes of the ego; exaggerated assertion of strength and toughness;

7. Destructiveness and Cynicism: Generalized hostility, vilification of the human;

8. Projectivity: The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses; and

9. Sex: Exaggerated concern with sexual "goings-on."

As pointed out, however, it is likely that the F Scale measures little or nothing of such a complex set of traits.

An alternative approach is to use simpler conceptions of authoritarianism in research. Ray [ 1976 ], for example, has suggested that the core element in any conception of authoritarianism is "the desire or tendency to impose one's will on others." This would make authoritarianism simply an aggressive form of dominance and would capture some of the traits identified under characteristics (3) and (6) outlined earlier. Rigby [ 1982; 1984] has suggested the concept of "attitude towards institutional authority" which is related to some aspects of characteristics (1) and (2), as another aspect of authoritarianism. Both these traits can be reliably measured by the use of the Ray [ 1976] Directiveness Scale for aggressive dominance and the Rigby [ 1982] General Attitude Towards Institutional Authority Scale (GAIAS). Both the scales, which are reproduced in an Appendix, are balanced against acquiescence and are being used in authoritarian research [Rigby, 1984; Ray, 1984b ]. These two scales, however, far from exhaust the number of scales available. For information on other possible scales see Ray [ 1984a, 1984b ] and Rigby [ 1984; 1987 ].


It is unlikely that Foran and DeCoster [ 19741 and Chenhall [ 1986 ], for example, who used the F Scale, were in fact measuring authoritarianism as defined by Adorno et al. [ 1950 ]. Also in Chenhall's [ 1986 ] study, the significant association between job satisfaction and budget satisfaction with a dyadic configuration of authoritarianism [p. 268] may in fact be due in part to a dyadic configuration of those who acquiesce. A major problem of reinterpreting results is that the F Scale is purported to measure a range of traits which makes it difficult to identify what could be leading to the significant results in any one case. What is, however, reasonably certain is the fact that these researchers were not measuring authoritarianism as defined by Adorno et al. [ 1950]. Several alternative scales which are more appropriate and valid are available.



For each of the following 16 opinions, please state your personal reaction by crossing (x) the appropriate answer for each question as: "agree strongly", "uncertain", "disagree strongly", "agree but not strongly", "disagree but not strongly"

1. The Police are pretty trustworthy
2. A Person should obey only those laws that seem reasonable
3. The Army develops initiative
4. It is unreasonable to say that as a rule teachers work in the best interests of their students
5. The Police are quite unfair in their treatment of certain groups of society
6. The law is the embodiment of justice and equality
7. I disagree with what the Army stands for
8. The Police have a hard job which they carry out well
9. Laws are so often made for the benefit of small, selfish groups that one cannot respect the law
10. The Army reduces men to robots
11. Teachers do not respect the individual personalities of the students
12. Policemen like to bully people
13. Teachers are usually ready to take seriously whatever students feel earnest about
14. Obedience to the law constitutes a value indicative of the highest citizenship
15. In this day and age students should not be expected to call a teacher "Sir"
16. People should feel proud to serve in the Army


For each of the following 14 questions please rate your response in terms of "yes," "?" (uncertain), or "no." Please just cross (x) the appropriate answer for each question.

1. Are you the sort of person who always likes to get their own way?
2. Do you tend to boss people around?
3. Do you like to have things "Just so"?
4. Do you suffer fools gladly?
5. Do you think one point of view is as good as another?
6. Are you often critical of the way other people do things?
7. Do you like people to be definite when they say things?
8. Does incompetence irritate you?
9. Do you dislike having to tell others what to do?
10. If you are told to take charge of a situation does this make you feel uncomfortable?
11. Would you rather take orders than give them?
12. Do you dislike standing out from the crowd?
13. Do you find it difficult to make up your own mind about things?
14. If anyone is going to be "Top Dog," would you rather it be you?


{Articles below by J.J. Ray can generally be accessed simply by clicking on the name of the article. I am however also gradually putting online a lot of abstracts, extracts and summaries from older articles by other authors so if an article not highlighted below seems of particular interest, clicking here might just save you a trip to the library}

Abdel-Halim, A. A., and K. M. Rowland, "Some Personality Determinants of the Effects of Participation: A Further Investigation," Personnel Psychology (Spring 1976), pp. 41-55.

Adorno, T. W., E. Frenkel-Brunswik, D. Levinson, and R. N. Sanford, The Authoritarian Personality (Harper and Bros., 1950).

Altemeyer, R. A., Right-wing Authoritarianism (University of Manitoba Press, 1981).

Bass, B. M., "Authoritarianism or Acquiescence?" Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (51, 1955), pp. 616-623.

Bixenstine, V. E., and E. F. O. O'Reilley, Jr., "Money Versus Electric Shock as Payoff in a Prisoner's Dilemma Game," Psychological Record (July 1966), pp. 251-264.

Brown, R., Social Psychology (Free Press, 1965).

Brownell, P., "Participation in Budgeting, Locus of Control and Organizational Effectiveness," The Accounting Review (October 1981), pp. 844-860.

Chapman, L. J., and R. D. Bock, "Components of Variance due to Acquiescence and Content in the F Scale Measure of Authoritarianism," Psychological Bulletin (55, 1958), pp. 328-333.

Chenhall, R. H., "Authoritarianism and Participative Budgeting: A Dyadic Analysis," The Accounting Review (April 1986), pp. 263-272.

Christie, R., "Changes in Authoritarianism as Related to Situational Factors," American Psychologist (7, 1952), pp. 307-308.

Christie, R., and M. Jahoda (eds. ), "Studies in the Scope and Method of The Authoritarian Personality" (Free Press, 1954).

Cohn, T. S., "The Relation of the F Scale to a Response Set to Answer Positively," American Psychologist (8, 1953), abstract.

Cohn, T. S., "Relation of the F Scale to a Response to Answer Positively," Journal of Social Psychology (44, 1956), pp. 129-133.

Dermer, J., "Cognitive Characteristics and Perceived Impact of Information," The Accounting Review (July 1973), pp. 511-519.

Foran, M. F., and D. T. DeCoster, "An Experimental Study of the Effects of Participation, Authoritarianism and Feedback on Cognitive Dissonance in a Standard Setting Situation," The Accounting Review (October 1974), pp. 751-763.

Gul, F. A., "The Joint and Moderating Role of Personality and Cognitive Style on Decision Making," The Accounting Review (April 1984), pp. 264-277.

Hartmann, P., "A Perspective on the Study of Social Attitudes," European Journal of Social Psychology (7, 1977), pp. 85-96.

Hollander, E. P., "Authoritarianism and Leadership Choice in a Military Setting," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (49, 1954), pp. 365-370.

Hofstede, G. H., The Game of Budget Control (Van Gorcum, 1967).

Jacobsen, F. N., and S. Rettig, "Authoritarianism and Intelligence," Journal of Social Psychology (50, 1959), pp. 213-219.

Kelman, H. C., and J. Barclay, "The F Scale as a Measure of Breadth of Perspective," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (67, 1963), pp. 608-615.

Kornhauser, A., H. L. Sheppard, and A. J. Mayer, When Labor Votes (University Books, 1956).

Levinson, D. J., "An Approach to the Theory and Measurement of Ethnocentric Ideology," Journal of Psychology (17, 1955), pp. 19-39.

Levinson, D. J., and R. N. Sanford, "A Scale for the Measurement of Anti-Semitism," Journal of Psychology (17, 1944), pp. 339-370.

MacKinnon, W. J., and R. Centers, "Authoritarianism and Urban Stratification," American Journal of Sociology (61, 1956), pp. 610-620.

Marlowe, D., and K. J. Gergen, "Personality and Social Interaction," in G. Lindzey and E. Aronson (eds. ), The Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. 3 (Addison-Wesley, 1969).

McKinney, D. W., The Authoritarian Personality Studies (Mouton, 1973).

Pflaum, J., "The Development and Evaluation of Equivalent Forms of the F Scale," Psychological Reports (15, 1964), pp. 663-669.

Pratt, J., "The Effects of Personality on Subjects' Information Processing: A Comment," The Accounting Review (July 1980), pp. 501-506.

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

Ray, J.J. (1983) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Alternatives to the F scale in the measurement of authoritarianism: A catalog. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 105-119.

Ray, J.J. (1984). Half of all racists are Left-wing. Political Psychology, 5, 227-236.

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

Rigby, K., "A Concise Scale for the Assessment of Attitudes Towards Institutional Authority," Australian Journal of Psychology (34, 2, 1982), pp. 195-204.

Rigby, K., "Acceptance of Authority and Directiveness as Indicators of Authoritarianism: A New Framework," Journal of Social Psychology (122, 1984), pp. 171-180.

Rigby, K., "An Authority Behavior Inventory," Journal of Personality Assessment (51, 4, 1987), pp. 615-625.

Sanford, N., "The Approach of the Authoritarian Personality" in J. L. McCary (ed. ), Psychology of Personality (Grove, 1956).

Seiler, R. E., and R. W. Bartlett, "Personality Variables as Predictors of Budget System Characteristics," Accounting, Organizations, and Society (No. 4, 1982), pp. 381-403.

Stagner, R., Psychology of Personality (McGraw-Hill, 1965).

Swieringa, R. J., and R. H. Moncur, Some Effects of Participative Budgeting on Managerial Behavior, National Association of Accountants (1975).

Thompson, R. C., and J. B. Michel, "Measuring Authoritarianism: A Comparison of the F and D Scales," Journal of Personality (40, 1972), pp. 180-190.

Titus, H. E., "F Scale Validity Considered Against Peer Nomination Criteria," Psychological Record (18, 1968), pp. 395-403.

Titus, H. E., and E. P. Hollander, "The California F Scale in Psychological Research: 1950-1955," Psychological Bulletin (54, 1957), pp. 47-64.

Vannoy, J. S., "Generality of Cognitive Complexity-Simplicity as a Personality Construct," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2, 1965), pp. 385-396.

Vroom, V. H., Some Personality Determinants of the Effects of Participation, Ford Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Series, 1960.

Zuckerman, M., M. Norton, and D. S. Sprague, "Acquiescence and Extreme Sets and their Role in Tests of Authoritarianism, Personality Needs, Psychopathology, and Self-Acceptance," Child Development (30, 1959), pp. 27-36.


In case it is not obvious, the following items of the attitude to authority scale are reverse-scored (i.e. "Strongly Agree" is scored 1): Nos.: 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15. For the Directiveness scale the reversals (i.e. "Yes" is scored 1) are: 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. For the remaining items, "Strongly Disagree" and "No" is scored 1. Note that a midpoint (3 in the attitude scale and 2 in the Directiveness scale) is allowed on all occasions.

There was a critique of the above paper which is replied to HERE.

Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.

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