Human Relations 1990, 43, 997-1015.


J.J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia


It is noted that the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno et al is now seldom referred to in race relations research and that the scale used to operationalize the theory (the F scale) is a very poor measure of what it purports to measure (Right-wing authoritarianism). The F scale does have many correlates, however, and the work of Pflaum is referred to support the contention that the F scale in fact taps an old-fashioned orientation. A large correlational study by Kline & Cooper is reinterpreted in this light and it is shown that when pejorative assumptions are discarded, the old-fashioned person would appear to have many potentially admirable characteristics. The new understanding of what the F scale measures is also shown to be helpful in making sense of the findings from many other studies.

What the 'F' scale measures

Although devised as a means of explaining racism, the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) is now little used for that purpose. Current research into race relations or intergroup relations tends to give it at best token mention (e.g. Doise, 1985; Cobas, 1986; Sniderman & Tetlock, 1986; Brewer & Kramer, 1985; Messick & Mackie, 1989). This seems to be because group loyalty is now generally seen as a universal human attribute rather than as an attribute of deviants only. In the words of one elementary textbook writer, ethnocentrism and stereotyping are "universal ineradicable psychological processes" (Brown, 1986. See also Tajfel & Fraser, 1978). Another reason for disregarding the Adorno et al work is that its chief measuring instrument (the F scale) and key to the theory has been repeatedly shown as invalid. It does not predict authoritarian behavior (Titus & Hollander, 1957; Titus, 1968; Altemeyer, 1981; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983) and it is a poor predictor of political Rightism. In general population samples, many Leftist voters get high scores on it (Hanson, 1975; Ray, 1973b, 1983c, 1984 & 1985a).

Although this is a considerable record of failure, it only tells part of the story. The other side is of course the fact that vast numbers of articles have been published wherein the F scale has been shown to have significant relationships with other variables. The F scale may not measure what it purports to measure but it does measure something that seems to have an effect on many other variables. But what could this be? If the scale does not measure what it was devised to measure, is it likely that it adventitiously measures something else? If it does not measure authoritarianism or political conservatism, what could it measure that would produce the relationships observed?

We do of course have Gabennesch's (1972) suggestion that a high F score represents narrowness of world-view and a narrow breadth of perspective but this would seem to come rather close to equating authoritarianism with lack of education and the correlations between F scale score and education are not generally high and have even been on some occasions non-significant (See Table 1 in Ray, 1983a and also the -.047 correlation discussed under a later heading in this paper). There may therefore be some tendency for F scale scorers to be as Gabennesch characterizes them but that is surely not the whole of what the F scale measures.

Aside from the Gabennesch work, however, no systematic investigation of alternatives to authoritarianism as an explanation of what the F scale measures appears to have been so far attempted in the literature (though I have mentioned in passing the proposal to be explored here on a number of previous occasions. See e.g. Ray, 1983c, 1987 and 1988), but there is fortunately on record one finding that gives a very strong clue about what the answer might be. Pflaum (1964) showed that a parallel form of the 'F' scale could be produced from collections of myths and superstitions that had been popular in the 1920's. Now this is very strong data indeed. If Pflaum had simply shown that the 'F' scale correlated with assent to popular myths and superstitions of the past, that could simply be written off as just another interesting finding of uncertain implication. The correlations Pflaum found, however, were so high that they enabled claims that a parallel form of the 'F' scale had been found. Pflaum has therefore made an explicit discovery about what the F scale consists of. It is a collection of old-fashioned myths and superstitions or statements that strongly resemble them. Hartmann (1977) described the 'F' scale as a collection of "Victorian" values (no doubt Biedemeyer values in the German case) so the culture that produced 'F' scale type sentiments may go back even earlier than the 1920's. At any event, it is clear that the attitudes expressed in the 'F' scale were old-fashioned even when the 'F' scale was compiled. How much more old-fashioned they must be today! That they are is also shown by the fact that the F scale always seems to correlate with age (e.g. Meloen, Hagendoorn, Raaijmakers & Visser, 1988). Older people tend to get higher scores on it.

Another piece of work which supports this interpretation of the F scale is the finding by Alwin (1988) to the effect that the ideals for child behavior in the U.S.A. have changed a lot since the 1920's. In the 20's conformity and obedience to authority were what was expected of children. In present times, however, this is replaced by values directed toward the child being more autonomous. So what do we find in the F scale? About a third of the items stress the importance of authority in general and several specifically advocate obedience to authority by young people -- exactly what we would expect of a scale embodying 1920's values. Putting it another way, the pro-authority content of the F scale is an important part of its "old-fashionedness". Koomen (1972) has also documented (for both Germany and the United States) the authoritarian nature of child-rearing practices in the 1920's and 1930's.

In short, a high 'F' scorer is not a Fascist but rather someone who is still lost in the culture of the pre-war era. He or she tends to be "old-fashioned". Since Hitler's Nazism did strongly tend to romanticize the past and perhaps took some of its values from the past, some understanding of how the two variables got mixed up would seem possible. Adorno et al heard various expressions of attitude from various sources in California that sounded to them like what they had heard from Hitler. They mistakenly assumed that the old-fashioned people who uttered these statements must also be like Hitler. They did, of course attempt to substantiate their suspicions empirically but their methods for doing so have long ago been shown as prejudging the question (Christie & Jahoda, 1954; McKinney, 1973; Ray, 1973a). In other words, the "authoritarian" was essentially a case of mistaken identity -- unless, of course, someone wishes to propose that all old- fashioned people are Nazis.

Surely, however, no-one would propose that all old-fashioned people are Nazis. Nor is it clear, in fact, that the Nazis were old- fashioned. They may have romanticized the past but their military doctrine and technology, for instance, were very advanced for the times -- as their several years of initial military success showed (Dupuy, 1986). In the non-military sphere, too, many Nazi preoccupations seem even today to be startlingly modern -- beliefs in whole-grain bread, holistic medicine, ecology etc. (Proctor, 1988). Proctor (1988) also points out that even Nazi ideas of racial hygiene were and are essentially "normal" science in the Kuhnian sense. Nazism and being old-fashioned are, then, clearly far from being one and the same. What being old-fashioned implies, then, must be studied in its own right.

The problem of value-judgments

At this point it would be easy to conduct some new research with the F scale that was guided by this new understanding of what it measures. Given the vast volume of extant research with the 'F' scale, however, this would surely be a wasteful strategy. Could not one or many of the existing studies of the scale be re-used to give us any information we need? It is proposed here that such re- interpretation can usefully be done and some attempts at it by way of example will be made. Before this can be done, however, a very important caveat has to be entered. It needs to be pointed out that the implications of 'F' scale research have never really been straightforward and that interpretation has always been needed before any conclusions were drawn.

This can perhaps best be seen if it is realized that (Brown, 1965) the origin of the authoritarian personality concept lies not with Adorno et al (1950) but rather with the Nazi psychologist Jaensch (1938) -- who appears to have initiated the suggestion that variables from the psychology of perception could be used to index or explain personality. His 'J Type' (later called "authoritarian") had strong, clear, unambiguous perceptions and Jaensch presented this as being obviously desirable. The 'J Type' became, then, the Nazi ideal. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the group of Left-wing Jewish psychologists (Adorno et al, 1950) who first undertook the task of explaining Nazi-type character in the post-war era, appear to have accepted the Nazi theory with little change. They adopted the judgments of their oppressors (or would-be oppressors). Cf Bettelheim (1943). The main (inevitable?) amendment they made to the theory was to reverse the value judgments. Tolerance of ambiguity became desirable where it previously had been seen as undesirable. The seeking of a simple conceptual world became suspect.

Yet can it coherently be suspect? Ever since Einstein first attempted it, the Holy Grail of modern physics has been the search for a "unified field theory" -- i.e. a simple explanation which integrates the explanation of all the forces in the universe into a single theory. Physicists want to simplify their conceptual world. Yet on a strict application of the Adorno et al account are not Einstein and all his successors simply showing their personal inadequacy by their search for simplicity? That is surely obvious nonsense. The truth, of course, is that both the desire for simplicity and tolerance of ambiguity can be adaptive from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance. We cannot oversimplify by saying that one or the other is overall more valuable, adaptive or praiseworthy. Welsh (1981) recognizes this when he systematically presents preference for structure and order as merely an alternative to its opposite rather than as some sort of inferior orientation.

Defining "old-fashioned"

With the need for caution about value-judgments in mind, we may then perhaps look at a recent large study by Kline & Cooper (1984). In this study a large number of possible correlates of the 'F' scale were surveyed. The relationships observed should, then, tell us something about the current correlates of being old-fashioned. While being old- fashioned could be formally defined as: "Having attitudes, values, outlooks and practices characteristic of the past" or some such, this does not tell us much about just what those attitudes, values and practices actually are at the present time. The Kline & Cooper study should help us to find out. It should help give us an operational definition of "old-fashioned".

To begin, we might perhaps look at what Kline & Cooper themselves thought that they had found. They claimed that their results showed that "authoritarians" are conscientious, conventional, conservative, and controlled, with high will-power. They also found that "authoritarians" were "anal" and low scorers on Eysenck's 'P' scale. The pejorative tone of this description may be noted.

Since we now know that the study of high 'F' scale scorers is not synonymous with the study of political villains, however, any pejorative preconceptions concerning what was found may be set aside. Instead, it seems reasonable to say that Kline & Cooper showed that old-fashioned people at the present time are especially "nice" to others (i.e. low scorers on the Eysenck "P" scale), forceful, conscientious, conservative and inclined to perfectionism with good self-control. It will be noted that this description is not notably pejorative and may even be slightly laudatory. What was presented by Kline & Cooper (1984) as confirming the Adorno et al theory need bear no such interpretation at all. It is, however, interesting information about old-fashioned people.

An example of where the Kline & Cooper findings need reinterpretation is in the case of the Freudian term "anal". While there may be some justification for using such an offensive label with clinical populations, it is surely much less suitable for use and potentially misleading with normal populations. The scale used to measure this attribute is now out of print and Kline did not respond to a request for a copy of it so one cannot be absolutely sure what it measures but the proposal above that it be said to measure "perfectionism" is unlikely to be too wide of the mark. Such a label would at least contain a better balance between positive and negative connotations. People such as scientists may be in considerable need of the tendency to give obsessive attention to detail. Such attention may even be needed for scientific progress. To characterize it in uniformly pejorative ways is surely therefore inadequate.

One finding that even Kline & Cooper saw a need to reinterpret was their finding that "authoritarians" were especially low scorers on the Eysenck 'P' scale. The simplest interpretation of this finding is that "authoritarians" are especially sane. Such a conclusion is, of course, very upsetting to the Adorno et al theory. What the Eysenck 'P' scale measures, however, is not at all obvious. Despite the name it is not simply a measure of Psychoticism and Eysenck himself proposes that in normal populations the scale measures "tough-mindedness" (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1976). The scale is, however, a factor analytic product and, like most such, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In the present context the alternative might be considered that the 'P' scale measures whether or not people are "nice" to one-another. Thus Kline & Cooper appear to have found that old-fashioned people are "nicer" than other people. Since it appears to be a common occurrence today that people look back to the past as a time of greater civility, this would be an eminently understandable finding. The new understanding of what the 'F' scale measures turns a troublesome finding into something much more easily assimilated.

The other Kline & Cooper variables that have been renamed need no elaborate explanation. Kline & Cooper rely heavily in their work on the Cattell "16PF" and the naming of those scales has always been to some extent problematical. The fact that Cattell himself had to invent or disinter many words to name his scales ("surgency", "rhathymia" etc.) is fairly clear evidence of that. There certainly need to be no pejorative assumptions concerning their implications. It is in the end all a matter of interpretation and no-one can be dogmatic either way.

It seems at least possible, however, that being old-fashioned could be quite creditable. Old-fashioned people do not sound very difficult to live with. Being conscientious and self-controlled could be overdone but surely many of modern society's ills (e.g. violent crime, welfare cheating) would seem to stem from a deficiency in such attributes.

Reinterpreting other studies

It seems of interest to note that similar reinterpretation exercises performed with other sets of data available in the literature also yield improved insights.

Maier & Lavrakas (1984), for instance, found a relationship between 'F' scale score and sex-typed body ideals. This suggests that it is old-fashioned to idealize a muscular physique among males. Since human muscle has been supplanted by machines in so many ways since the Second World war, this finding would seem an expected one. If muscle is less important, it should be less idealized. What seems at first like an obscure finding about authoritarianism becomes instead a readily understandable finding about what has become old-fashioned.

Similarly, Kelley (1985) found that high 'F' scorers tended more than others to dislike being shown pictures of masturbation. An elaborate interpretation of this finding in terms of the psychodynamic processes described by Adorno et al is, of course, possible but a much more straightforward interpretation is that sexual prudery is old- fashioned. Given the great liberalization of sexual attitudes since "the Pill", this too fits in well with what is already known. Fisher et al (1988) also report prudery among high F scorers.

The finding by Larsen, Reed & Hoffman (1980) to the effect that high F scorers (old-fashioned people) dislike homosexuals is, of course, also similarly explained. Homosexuals were once so disfavoured that homosexuality was almost universally illegal. Now they are generally tolerated and may even be accepted. So it is old-fashioned nowadays to decry homosexuality -- which the Larsen, Reed & Hoffman data confirm.

One study with the F scale that seems of considerable potential importance is one by Mercer & Kohn (1980). These authors relate "authoritarianism" to adolescent drug abuse. They find that young adolescents with high F scores are less likely to take recreational drugs. As this seems a clear instance of "authoritarianism" being highly adaptive it must have been something of a bitter pill for anyone accepting the Adorno et al (1950) view of authoritarianism as being highly maladaptive. As it is, however, the finding simply shows that it is a mainly modern phenomenon to make regular use of illicit drugs. Since drug abuse does appear to have spiralled in recent years, this is an eminently understandable finding. We may however regret that it is now old-fashioned to make no use of recreational drugs.

Perhaps a final study that should be reinterpreted here is one by Siegel & Mitchell (1979). These authors did at least use a form of the F scale that was balanced against acquiescent bias. These authors conducted a mock-jury study in which the effect of juror authoritarianism (among other things) on final verdict was examined. The findings include many complicated interactions so are not easy to summarize and a further complication is that much that was true for males was not true for females and vice versa but some effects can nonetheless be descried.

The facts of the case presented to the jurors were that a drug pusher had been caught "red-handed" by the police. The results showed that males scoring high on the F scale were more certain of the defendant's guilt than were high F females. Since it was hard in the circumstances for certainty not to be high, this seems to mean that the high F (but not low F) females were influenced by compassion in their judgments. Old-fashioned women were more compassionate than their men? It seems reasonable. It was further found that high F scorers were more punitive to a person of low moral character than to a person of generally high character. Low F scorers did not differentiate in terms of character. This suggests that it is modern to ignore morality and character. As this is an age where all values are challenged that would seem to fit in with what we know of modern times. It was also found that high F males rated the defendant as less honest. This suggests that it is modern to see drug-dealing as honest. Drugs certainly do seem to have much more acceptance now than they once did so this makes good sense of the findings.

South African data

One study that needs only minor elaboration is the work of Duckitt (1983) in South Africa. Duckitt found that authoritarian personality, social class and various demographic variables were poor predictors of F scale score but that being of an Afrikaner or English-speaking background had a big effect. As the Afrikaners, with their strict Calvinistic Protestantism, are a notably old-fashioned group in all sorts of ways, their high F scores represent good confirmation for the present theory.

It will be noted that all the studies that have been reinterpreted above were published in the ten-year period from 1979 to 1988. Others could have been mentioned and there certainly is a host of earlier studies (e.g. Garcia & Griffitt (1978) but it is hoped that enough has been said to show how they too could be reinterpreted should the need arise.

Racial attitudes and the F scale

What about the relationship between the 'F' scale and racial attitudes? Is that now to be challenged too? Not at all. The prediction of expressed racial attitudes provided by the 'F' scale is surely one of the most frequently replicated findings in the whole of psychology (though there have been odd exceptions e.g. McAbee & Cafferty, 1982). Hardly a year goes by without it being rediscovered and those who make the rediscovery tend to present it as important support for the Adorno et al theory (e.g. Meloen et al, 1988). It is of course nothing of the kind. It simply shows that it is now old- fashioned to make public avowals of racial sentiment. Such avowals were common and respectable before World War II but once the horror of Hitler's genocide attempt became known, they rapidly became very un- respectable. Nowadays, if you are going to support racist policies, it helps to be living in the past.

If writers such as Meloen et al (1988) believe that it is the pro- authority content of the 'F' scale that enables its prediction of racial attitudes, what do they make of the finding by Heaven (1983) to the effect that a scale with equal numbers of pro-authority and anti- authority items (scored so that assent to any item earned a high score) also gave a highly significant prediction of racial attitudes? If it is pro-authority content that predicts racial attitudes, should not the scale's anti-authority items have cancelled that out and caused the scale overall not to correlate with racial attitudes? How, then, do we explain Heaven's finding? Why did he score his pro-and anti- authority items the same anyway? He did so because he was measuring acquiescent response bias according to a schema that has often been advocated by the present writer (e.g. Ray, 1983b) and which has recently been supported by Davison & Srichantra (1988). Authors such as Meloen et al who use one-way worded versions of the 'F' scale ignore a great deal of evidence (e.g. Roberts, Forthofer & Fabrega, 1976; Ray & Pratt, 1979; Ray, 1983b & 1985b; Vagt & Wendt, 1978; Peabody, 1966; Jackson, 1967; Campbell, Siegman & Rees, 1967; Milbrath, 1962) to the effect that acquiescence can be a seriously distorting influence and can have correlates of its own. In Heaven's study the pro- and anti- authority items, far from being responded to in opposite ways, were in fact uncorrelated. The scale lacked meaningful internal consistency. Scores on it, therefore, simply measure acquiescence. Respondents got a high score for "Yes", regardless of the meaning of the item. Heaven showed, in other words, that scores on a scale of acquiescent bias predict scores on a balanced scale of racial attitudes. Both old- fashionedness and carelessness (if that is what underlies acquiescent bias) predict racial attitudes. Not all the prediction of racial attitudes given by the 'F' scale is the outcome of its one-way-worded form, however. This is shown by the fact that successfully balanced forms of the 'F' scale (i.e. forms where the pro-authority and anti- authority items do correlate significantly negatively and are scored oppositely) also predict racial attitudes. The correlations with racial attitudes shown by balanced scales are, however, much lower than those reported by Adorno et al (Ray, 1980). In other words, the original 'F' scale has a particularly high correlation with racial attitudes because it taps two important sources of expressed racial attitudes -- carelessness about what you say and an old-fashioned orientation. Controlling out the carelessness does however still leave a good measure of old-fashioned attributes and this too predicts racial attitudes -- though not as strongly as a measure that adds in other predictors as well.

It may also be worth noting at this point that knowing predictors of avowed racial dislikes may tell us nothing about the predictors of actual racism or racist behavior (La Piere, 1934; Crosby, Bromley & Saxe, 1980; Rule, Haley & McCormack, 1971). One study that may reflect this is by Stephan & Rosenfield (1978). As we have seen, "authoritarian" attitudes generally predict anti-black attitudes. Stephan & Rosenfield (1978), however, found that schoolchildren who had been subjected to "authoritarian" child-rearing practices tended to show (r = .33. See Table 2) the greatest increases in inter-ethnic contact after a desegregation program came into force. This is clearly troubling. It is so contrary to expectation that even the authors of the study seemed not to notice the sign of the correlation. When I wrote to one of them about it, he acknowledged the anomaly but could offer no explanation for it. We have however noticed some tendency in the studies so far reviewed for old-fashioned people to be "nicer" towards others in various ways. Could it be that this "niceness" was a stronger determinant of actions towards minorities than was the evaluative judgments held concerning those minorities? Was old- fashioned courtesy more significant than old-fashioned openness about racial judgments? In the absence of other explanations, it seems worth considering.

Another study that bears on the attitude/behaviour distinction is by Katz & Benjamin (1960). These authors noted that very little had been done to find out how high F scorers actually behaved towards blacks and set out to remedy the deficit. They conducted a small group study in which various tasks had to be carried out co-operatively. Each group had two blacks and two whites and the whites were one high and one low scorer on the F scale. It was found that the high F whites (the "authoritarians") accepted black suggestions more and that, presumably as a consequence, the blacks were more assertive and more co-operative back. The high F whites also changed their behaviour more than low scorers in order to accommodate situational changes brought about by the experimenters. They were in a word, more flexible. The negroes saw the low F scorers as less co-operative. Katz & Benjamin made an attempt to explain away these results but it is surely clear that the results are the exact reverse of what the Adorno et al theory would predict. The results are, however, very much in accord with the Stephan & Rosenfield (1978) results mentioned above and can be explained in a similar way. Once again we see evidence for the "niceness" of old-fashioned people. As the thing that we most reliably know about high F scorers is that they are more ready to avow racially negative attitudes this work also highlights yet again the folly of inferring behaviour from attitudes (Cf. La Piere, 1934; Crosby, Bromley & Saxe, 1980; Rule, Haley & McCormack, 1971).

Old-fashioned orientation in the general population

The research so far discussed has shown the explanatory power of the new conceptualization of what the 'F' scale measures but only the research by Heaven (1983) was based on general population sampling. As is often the case in psychology, students were the predominant source of the data analyzed. This is not entirely satisfactory (Sears, 1982). The picture of the old-fashioned person that we derive from (say) Kline & Cooper (1984) may not be accurate as a description of old-fashioned people in the population at large. A general population survey that used a successful balanced form of the 'F' scale will therefore be described. The correlates of old-fashionedness will thus be studied with no influence from acquiescent response bias present.

The study has previously been described in Study II, Ch. 43 of Ray (1974) and Ray (1973b) -- where fuller details may be found. Briefly, however, it was a random doorstep survey of the Australian city of Sydney. N = 118. The Balanced 'F' (BF) scale showed that old- fashioned people tended to be older (r = .218), in humbler occupations (-.304), were equally likely to be male or female (.031), could have any level of education (-.047), were equally likely to vote Leftist or Rightist (.097), might or might not be alienated (-.020) and tended to accept that aggression was inevitable in life (.254).

There were other correlations with political conservatism (.519), social conservatism (.717), moral conservatism (.580), attitude to authority (.539) and Dogmatism (.617) but one must ask to what degree these might be artifactual. Adorno et al used many items that express admiration of authority in their scale so the correlation between the BF scale and the AA (attitude to authority) scale is obviously artifactual. Clearly, the BF scale must to some degree measure (at least verbal) acceptance of some kinds of authority as well as old- fashioned orientation. Interestingly, however, the AA scale does not predict racism (Ray, 1984) so the pro-authority aspect of the 'F' scale is not what leads it to predict racism. This is, of course, the exact reverse of what Adorno et al thought.

It should be noted that the sort of attitude to authority measured by the 'F' scale does not appear to have behavioral implications. Both the original 'F' scale and the BF scale do not appear to predict any sort of authoritarian behavior (Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). The attitude to authority component of what the 'F' scale measures should not therefore be a serious confound when the scale is being used to measure old-fashioned orientation.

In the light of the fact that the BF scale does not predict general population vote (a finding also common with the original form of the 'F' scale. See Hanson, 1975), the correlations with the conservatism scales also begin to look suspect. Is being old-fashioned necessarily to be conservative? Certainly in one respect it is not. The BF scale correlated only .102 (N.S.) with the scale of economic conservatism. Lipset (1959 & 1960) has, however, claimed that conservatism on economic questions (redistribution of the wealth etc.) is differently determined from conservatism in other areas so this might not be an important exception. See also Felling & Peters (1986) and Himmelweit, Humphreys, Jaeger & Katz (1981 pp. 138/9). It has been shown (Ray, 1973a) that acceptance of conventional authority has always been an important part of conservative ideology so perhaps any scale that measures acceptance of authority is also thereby measuring acceptance of conservative philosophy. Certainly, the AA scale also correlated highly with the conservatism scales. Would a scale of old-fashioned outlook that did not include pro-authority items also predict conservatism of ideology? Only further research could tell.

The implications of the correlation between the BF and BD (balanced Dogmatism) scale are also not as clear as they might at first seem. What the Rokeach (1960) Dogmatism scale measures (if anything) is very much open to question (Ray, 1979) but perhaps it too might be substantially old-fashioned to modern ears.

That there may be a variety of scales that to different degrees express an old-fashioned orientation is perhaps also suggested by a study in which Ray (1985c) looked at the demographic correlates of a variety of measures of conservatism and related concepts. Some of these measures correlated little with age of the respondent and some correlated strongly. The scale that showed the strongest correlation (.51) with age was derived primarily from the Eysenck (1954) 'R' scale and the Lentz et al (1935) C-R scale. The composition of both scales was influenced by pre-World War II issues so this is not inherently surprising. It does however help to explain findings such as De Man's (1985). De Man found that high scorers on the Eysenck 'R' scale ("conservatives") perceived their parents as less permissive and more controlling. In other words, permissiveness is modern. Once again a finding of some apparent theoretical interest turns out to be in fact much more mundane.

An objection to the present account

As was mentioned at the outset of this paper, the idea that the F scale measures an old-fashioned outlook rather than authoritarianism has previously been mentioned in passing in the literature even if it has not been given the thorough examination attempted here. For this reason, there is already one objection to the idea in print. This is in the form of a short paper by Kelley (1989) responding to my critique (see also above) of an earlier paper by her (Kelley, 1985). If the strength of a theory can be gauged by the weakness of the objections to it, however, the present theory must be a very strong one. Kelley touches on a number of areas wherein she believes that the data supports the F scale as measuring authoritarianism but does so in a very selective manner. Other studies in the areas she explores that conflict with her conception of what the F scale measures are simply ignored. It would seem that the many authors who have questioned the validity of the F scale (e.g. Christie & Jahoda, 1954; McKinney, 1973; Altemeyer, 1981) wrote in vain as far as Kelley is concerned.

For instance, she mentions that some high F scorers have been found to prefer conservative political candidates and that some neo-Nazis and John Birchers have been found to have high F scores but she ignores the fact mentioned above to the effect that many people in the general population have high F scores and that even people who vote for Leftist candidates often have high F scores (Hanson, 1975; Ray, 1973, 1983c and 1984). Old-fashioned people in the general population (and even to some extent among students) simply have a variety of political orientations. They are certainly not all Rightists and, in at least some general population samples, they are not even predominantly Rightists. Furthermore, even if high F scale scorers in the general population were predominantly Rightist voters, that would hardly suffice as a demonstration that the F scale measured authoritarianism. One would have thought that no-one now would need to have pointed out to them that both Leftists and Rightists on the world scene can be either authoritarian or non-authoritarian. It apparently suits Kelley's politics to see a vote for Lyndon Baines Johnson as pro- authoritarian but the fact of the matter is that President Johnson was the popular and democratically elected leader of one of the world's most democratic countries who relinquished power at a constitutionally proper time. An admiration of Mao, Castro or the pre-Gorbachev Soviet system, on the other hand would be rather more clearly pro- authoritarian.

Kelley (1989) goes on to point out that in her earlier study (Kelley, 1985) high F scorers were not particularly prudish in responding to erotica except that they showed a greater dislike of being shown pictures of "same-sex masturbation" than did low scorers. Kelley fairly reasonably explains the general lack of prudishness in this area on the part of high F scorers by proposing that erotica and masturbation are as old as the hills and that the culture of the past also therefore featured them. What she fails to explain, however, is the one exception she found. She fails to explain that her high F scorers were more prudish in responding to pictures of "same-sex masturbation". Finding an explanation for it in terms of the present theory, however, is not at all difficult. One simply has to associate "same-sex masturbation" with homosexuality to make the connection. As has already been mentioned, homosexuality has only recently gained some degree of social acceptability so anything associated with it in people's minds should be disliked by old-fashioned people. Kelley's work does nothing, therefore, to upset the present account of what the F scale measures.


A great deal of data has been surveyed and the inevitable complexities have arisen but throughout it all, it has been obvious that a view of the 'F' scale as primarily a measure of old-fashioned orientation has considerable explanatory force. It may be, of course, that having an "old-fashioned orientation" is not the most ultimately accurate way of characterizing high F scale scorers. That they could also fairly reasonably be characterized by related descriptions such as "cultural traditionalists" or "cultural conservatives" is admitted. "Old fashioned" would, however seem to be a simpler characterization so is perhaps to be preferred under the principle of parsimony. The many correlates of the scale also suggest that this orientation is an important one for study. There must be a great range in the degree to which and the rate at which people absorb what is new so the variable may be one of the more important for understanding individuals. Now that it is clear that we have at least one measure of it, there will hopefully be much future research in the field.

Future researchers should however take care to use only balanced forms of the 'F' scale (e.g. Ray, 1972). Most of the existing literature is based on one-way worded versions of the scale and is, as such, generally unrewarding to attempt to interpret. Any given correlation could be due either to the old-fashioned character of the items or to their direction of wording. Research of such uncertain implication hardly seems worth doing.


{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}

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

Altemeyer, R.A.(1981)Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: Univ. Manitoba Press.

Alwin, D.F. (1988) From obedience to autonomy: Changes in traits desired in children 1924-1978. Public Opinion Quarterly 52, 33-52.

Bettelheim, B. (1943) Individual and mass behavior in extreme situations. J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol. 38, 417-452.

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.

Campbell, D.T., Siegman, C.R. & Rees, M.B. (1967) Direction of wording effects in the relationship between scales. Psychological Bulletin 68, 293-303.

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

Cobas, J.A. (1986) Puerto-Rican reactions to Cuban migrants: Insights from trading minority interpretations. Ethnic & Racial Studies 9, 529-536.

Doise, W. (1985) Nouvelle recherches sur les relations intergroupes Psychologie Francaise 30, 141-146.

Eysenck, H.J. & Eysenck, S.B.G. (1976) Psychoticism as a dimension of personality London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Hanson, D.J. (1975) Authoritarianism as a variable in political research. Il Politico 40, 700-705.

Hartmann, P. (1977) A perspective on the study of social attitudes. European J. Social Psychol. 7, 85-96.

Heaven, P.C.L. (1983) Authoritarianism or acquiescence? South African findings. J. Social Psychol. 119, 11-15.

Jackson, D.N. (1967) Acquiescence response styles: Problems of identification and control. In I.A. Berg (Ed.) Response set in personality measurement Chicago: Aldine.

Jaensch, E.R. (1938) Der Gegentypus Leipzig: Barth.

Kelley, K. (1985) Sex, sex-guilt and authoritarianism: Differences in response to explicit heterosexual and masturbatory styles. J. Sex Research 21, 68-85.

Kline, P. & Cooper, C. (1984) A factorial analysis of the authoritar- ian personality. British J. Psychol. 75, 171-176.

Koomen, W. (1974) A note on the authoritarian German family. J. Marriage & Family 36, 634-636.

La Piere, R. (1934) Attitudes and actions. Social Forces 13, 230-237

Larsen, K.S., Reed, M. & Hoffman, S. (1980) Attitudes of heterosexuals towards homosexuals: A Likert-type scale and construct validity. J. Sex Roles 16, 245-257.

Lipset, S.M. (1960) Political man N.Y.: Doubleday.

Maier, R.A. & Lavrakis, P.J. (1984) Attitudes towards women, personality rigidity and idealized physique preferences in males. Sex Roles 11(5-6), 425-433.

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

Meloen, J.D., Hagendoorn, L., Raaimakers, 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.

Mercer, G.W. & Kohn, P.M. (1980) Child-rearing factors, authoritarianism, drug-use attitudes and adolescent drug use: A model. J. Genetic Psychology 136, 159-171.

Peabody, D. (1966) Authoritarianism scales and response bias. Psychological Bulletin 65, 11-23. Pflaum, J. (1964) Development and evaluation of equivalent forms of the F scale. Psychol. Reports 15, 663-669.

Ray, J.J. (1972) A new balanced F scale -- And its relation to social class. Australian Psychologist 7, 155-166.

Ray, J.J. (1973a) Conservatism, authoritarianism and related variables: A review and an empirical study. Ch. 2 in: G.D. Wilson (Ed.) The psychology of conservatism London: Academic Press.

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

Ray, J.J. (1974) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

Ray, J.J. (1979) Is the Dogmatism scale irreversible? South African Journal of Psychology 9, 104-107.

Ray, J.J. (1980) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

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

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

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

Ray, J.J. (1985a). The psychopathology of the political Left. High School Journal, 68, 415-423.

Ray, J.J. (1985b) 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. (1987) Intolerance of ambiguity among psychologists: A comment on Maier & Lavrakas. Sex Roles 16, 559-562.

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

Ray, J.J. & Pratt, G.J. (1979) Is the influence of acquiescence on "catchphrase" type attitude scale items not so mythical after all? Australian Journal of Psychology 31, 73-78.

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

Siegel, J.M. & Mitchell, H.E. (1979) The influences of expectancy violations, sex, and authoritarianism on simulated trial outcomes. Representative Research in Social Psychology 10, 37-47.

Sniderman, P.M. & Tetlock, P.E. (1986) Reflections on American racism. J. Social Issues 42, 173-187.

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.

Vaid-Razada, V.K. (1983) Statistical analysis of multi-racial group characteristics and interracial conflict. Psychol. Reports 52, 39-42.

Welsh, G.S. (1981) Personality assessment with origence/intellectence scales. Academic Psychology Bulletin 3, 299--307.


Some other references that might have been mentioned above are as under:

Kagitcibasi, C. (1970) Social norms and authoritarianism: A Turkish- American comparison. J. Pers. & Social Psychology, 16 (3), 444-451

Krishna, K.P. & Prasad, S.C. (1971) Authoritarianism as a Function of Security-Insecurity and Anxiety. Manas, 18 (2), 85-90.

Robitaille, J. et al. (1985) Child abuse potential and authoritarianism Journal of Clinical Psychology, 41 (6), 839-844.

Stankov, L. (1977) Some experiences with the F scale in Yugoslavia. British J. Soc. Clin. Psychology 16, 111-121.

If the F scale measures old-fashioned values we would expect scores on it to be high in old-fashioned or backward cultures and that such values would be a sign of good adjustment in those cultures. Kagitcibasi (1977) reports high F scores in Turkey. Stankov (1977) reports that high F scores went with better adjustment in Communist-era Yugoslavia and Krishna & Prasad (1971) report that high F score went with better adjustment in India.

Robitaille et al. (1985) report no correlation between child-abuse potential and authoritarianism -- which is pretty surprising in the light of the Adorno theory but is perfectly consistent with so-called "authoritarianism" being simply an old-fashioned outloook.

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