Psychological Record 1989, 39, 555-561.
AUTHORITARIANISM RESEARCH IS ALIVE AND WELL -- IN AUSTRALIA: A REVIEW
University of N.S.W., Australia
After the work of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford was published in 1950 much research into authoritarianism was done. The return on the effort deployed was however disappointing and the topic is now a relatively minor one in psychology. Three Australian researchers have however continued with extensive programs of research in the area -- Ray, Rigby and Heaven. Some broad view is therefore given of the major themes in the work of each of these researchers. It is pointed out that all three researchers have produced new scales to measure various conceptions of authoritarianism that have some potential to reinvigorate research in this area. Some unexpected discoveries are also mentioned.
The relationship between the individual and authority would seem to be something of obvious interest to psychologists. The effect of authority on us is both universal and pervasive. At the present time, however, the psychological literature belies this. Although scarcely a month goes by without a paper or book on authoritarianism being published somewhere in the world, the amount published is still tiny when compared with other fields of psychological enquiry. A glance at the number of entries under "authoritarianism" and almost any other topic in the subject index of any recent volume of Psychological Abstracts will confirm that.
The reason for this situation is not far to seek. The work of Adorno, Frenkel, Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) was effective in causing psychologists of the 1950s and '60s to be interested in authoritarianism. Unfortunately, however, so massive were the criticisms (e.g. Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Rokeach, 1960; Brown, 1965; McKinney, 1973) of the lead given by Adorno et al (1950) that many psychologists must have concluded that this field is just "too difficult". It came to seem a field wherein even the obviously true could not be demonstrated with any certainty. See Altemeyer (1981) and Ray (1984).
In these circumstances, it is not entirely surprising that there seem to be only three psychologists worldwide who take a continuing research interest in authoritarianism -- Patrick Heaven, Ken Rigby and the present author. Other authors appear to contribute one or two papers on the topic and then fall silent. The three authors mentioned, however, keep publishing on the topic year after year. As it happens, all three authors reside in Australia. This might tend to inspire speculation about the influence of Australia's anti-authority traditions (a highway robber, Ned Kelly, is an enduring Australian folk-hero) but when it is realized that Heaven was born and bred in South Africa and that Rigby was born and bred in England, it is safest to see the matter as mere happenstance.
Given the great number of papers that have now come out of Australia,however, some attempt to review them and to find out what the similarities and differences are would seem to be timely. This does not mean that each and every paper published by the three authors should be summarized, but enough should be said so that the major themes can be identified.
From the beginning, the present author's approach has been influenced by psychometric considerations (Ray, 1970, 1972 & 1976). The debate over the one-way-worded nature of the F scale (Christie, Havel & Seidenberg, 1956) seemed to have led to a position where people could believe whatever they wanted to believe about findings from the Adorno F scale. Such findings could be viewed as either "all artifact" or as "all meaningful". Knowledge was replaced by opinion. This hardly seemed a desirable outcome for scientific research. Major psychometric improvements therefore seemed needed if knowledge were to advance. Attempts at such improvements were therefore made (e.g. Ray, 1970, 1972 & 1976) and continue to be made (Ray, 1984).
One such attempt was the production of an entirely new scale for the measurement of authoritarianism -- a behavior inventory called the "Directiveness" scale (Ray, 1976). The rationale behind the new scale was that a behavior inventory might be more predictive of actual behavior than an attitude scale could be and that one should attempt to measure only the core concept of authoritarianism rather than have a measure wherein authoritarianism and its possible correlates were inextricably confounded. The aim was conceptual simplicity. The Adorno F scale, by contrast, is generally held to contain a large element of conservatism (Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Ray, 1973). This meant that the Adorno F scale could not be used to examine the correlation between authoritarianism and conservatism. Any correlation would be artifactual. The Directiveness scale, by contrast, had no obvious political content so therefore could be used to examine what the F scale could not. See Ray (1983). The Directiveness scale was designed to measure one thing and one thing only. This was formally defined as: "The desire or tendency to impose one's own will on others". This attribute was felt to be at the core of any concept of authoritarianism.
Both Heaven (e.g. Heaven, 1987) and Rigby (e.g. Rigby, 1987a & b) have, however, rejected this approach to a substantial extent. Both have adopted the idea that authoritarianism should at least in part be measured by way of behavior inventories but what should be measured is not agreed. Both authors have noted that the Directiveness scale reads similarly to an ordinary dominance scale (e.g. the Dominance scale from the Jackson ,1967, "PRF"). This causes them to treat the scope of the Directiveness scale as being too limited and uninteresting. This view has been strengthened by the outcomes of various validation studies (e.g. Ray, 1981) which show that the principal behavioral correlates of the Directiveness scale are in fact dominance and aggression. In other words, "The desire or tendency to impose one's own will on others" reduces empirically to aggressive dominance. This would not seem to matter much when one thinks about it. That aggressive dominance of their respective populations should be seen as the core feature of regimes such as Hitler's and Stalin's surely seems a reasonable proposal. Aggressive dominance is certainly not a complete description of those regimes but it certainly gets at major and central elements of them. As a psychological characterization of what the Hitler and Stalin regimes had in common it is at least less obviously faulty than the theory of Adorno et al (1950). These authors in effect claimed that authoritarianism was characteristically Right- wing. "Right-wing" is hardly the commonest description of Joseph Stalin!
But is the Directiveness scale any improvement over an ordinary Dominance scale? Ray (1981) attempted to answer this by proposing related definitions for authoritarianism, dominance and assertiveness. It was proposed that authoritarianism was aggressive dominance and that assertiveness was non-aggressive dominance. This proposal was backed up by an empirical demonstration that a dominance scale could be produced which did NOT correlate with behavioral aggressiveness. One could measure dominance in general (via the new Ray Dominance scale) or one could measure just the aggressive sub-set of dominant behaviors (via the Ray Directiveness scale). Since making distinctions is very much part of the stuff of scientific advance, it seemed potentially useful in research to be able to make this particular distinction.
Unfortunately, however, the real world has a way of being less than fully co-operative with the nice distinctions proposed by thinkers. Since the proposals of Ray (1981) were put forward, Heaven (1986) has shown that with some samples even the Ray Dominance scale does show some correlation with rated aggressiveness. The production of an aggression-neutral dominance scale may therefore still be possible but it has been shown that it is a more difficult goal than at first appeared likely. Even more disquieting, however, the Ray Directiveness scale has been shown to be a remarkably good predictor of assertiveness -- better even than scales specifically designed to measure assertiveness (Ray & Lovejoy, 1986). This suggests the not wholly surprising conclusion that our definitions of assertiveness leave much room for improvement but it also suggests that behavior that might in one circumstance be seen as "authoritarian" could in another circumstance be seen as "assertive". Although not really surprising after the event, this finding was certainly not foreseen and could be held to support the contentions of Heaven and Rigby to the effect that the conceptualization of authoritarianism offered by the Directiveness scale is too narrow. Perhaps the Directiveness scale is lacking a "nasty" element. Perhaps an authoritarianism scale should more clearly tap an element of interpersonal hostility as well as aggression and dominance.
At this point it should have become clear that there is general agreement that authoritarianism involves more than one single trait. Adorno et al (1950) saw authoritarianism as comprising a whole host of covarying traits (Brown, 1965) and even the Directiveness scale soon became resolvable into an instrument measuring parts of two traits. That these two traits might have to be expanded by the addition of a third is therefore not entirely a quantum leap. The principle of parsimony would however seem to require that we try for explanations in terms of as few traits as possible and only expand our list of required traits when the fit of the theory to the data becomes obviously inadequate.
Heaven (1985) would seem to have concluded that quite a large number of traits need to be measured for an adequate characterization of authoritarianism. He has produced a behavior inventory that measures not only aggression and dominance but even such traits as achievement motivation. This may be going too far. Some approach such as Heaven's would appear to be justified but one can surely be over-inclusive. The present author would appear to have been the first to suggest that achievement motivation can lead to authoritarian deeds (Ray, 1980) but it is surely unparsimonious to say that achievement motivation should be IDENTIFIED with authoritarianism. Still, on empirical grounds, Heaven has a point. The correlation between the Directiveness scale and self-reported achievement motivation is certainly of the same order as the correlation between dominance and aggression (Ray, 1981 & 1984b). In the end it must be left to theory to decide what is an integral part and what is an empirical correlate. On practical grounds, however, the Heaven approach does seem unnecessarily limiting. Whenever he finds correlates for his authoritarianism scale it seems that it would always be possible to say: "But that correlation could be due just to the achievement motivation segment of the scale. It might not hold for authoritarianism in other senses". Doing research of such uncertain implications hardly seems very rewarding.
Rigby is also committed to a multi-trait approach. He, however, uses a separate and distinct scale to measure each concept and this approach may well end up being the most informative. His main concern appears to be the relationship between authoritarian attitudes and authoritarian behavior. Rigby seems to have found disturbing the demonstration (Ray, 1976) that authoritarian personality (as indexed by the Directiveness scale) is unrelated to pro- authority attitudes (as indexed by the Ray "AA" and other scales) and that it is personality rather than attitudes which predicts behavior. He confirmed (Rigby,1984) that his own attitude scale did not correlate with the Directiveness scale but disputed that his own attitude scale was unpredictive of behavior. Ray & Lovejoy (1983) re-examined the issue empirically and found no reason to see the Rigby Attitude to Authority scale as being different to previous scales in its relationship with behavior.
The issue does, however, appear to turn on what is seen as behavior and what is conceived of as authoritarian. The present author puts verbal behavior in a category separate from other behaviors whereas Rigby does not. Further, Rigby appears to see it as self-evident that "authoritarian" behavior is submissive behavior, with its opposite being rebellious behavior. This is at great variance with the approach embodied in the Directiveness scale (Ray, 1976). There it is domineering behavior that is seen as authoritarian, with submissiveness as its opposite. Curiously, the present author has also used the Rigby conceptualization of attitude to authority but such a concept was in that work seen as applicable to the situation of children only (Ray & Jones, 1983; Jones & Ray, 1984). For Adorno et al (1950), of course, no problem would arise here. They saw authoritarians as people who were both submissive AND dominant -- according to the occasion.
This is in fact a rather surprising position for Adorno et al to have adopted as it represents an acceptance that there is some inevitability in the Nazi Fuehrerprinzip (Brooker, 1985). The Fuehrerprinzip (leadership principle) was one of the most important elements of Nazi ideology and what it said was that human relations SHOULD be organized along military lines -- i.e. submissive to those above you and dominating to those below. Even Hitler, however, did not go so far as to say that you COULD NOT be dominant to those below you unless you were submissive to those above you. As a former military person, Hitler was presumably aware that great military leaders (e.g. Hannibal, Caesar) are often rebellious individualists rather than submissive toadies. Similar examples from recent American military experience would of course include Generals Patton and Macarthur. Despite all this, Adorno et al attempted to turn the Nazi Fuehrerprinzip from a prescription into a natural law. Given Brown's observations about the entire authoritarian personality theory being a borrowing from Nazi psychology, however, this may not be as surprising as at first it seems.
At any event, empirical research always shows dominance and submission as opposed rather than as positively related or orthogonal (e.g Ray, 1976), so the Adorno/Nazi concept of the relationship between these concepts is simply no longer available. At any event, it is clear that Adorno et al have bequeathed to us a rather confused situation as far as the meaning of the term "authoritarian" is concerned. Either the Directiveness scale approach or the Rigby approach would appear to have some justification and it really matters little which definition of "authoritarian" we adopt as long as the choice is made explicit and the two are not confused.
To put it in less confusing (if oversimplified) terms, one might say that Rigby has been concerned with the study of rebelliousness whereas the present author has been concerned with the study of dominance. This might at first glance not seem like a big difference but empirically the distinction does seem to be important. Rigby (1987a & b) for instance, finds strong correlations between rebellious attitudes, self- described rebellious behavior and peer-rated rebellious behavior whereas Ray (1976) found that pro-dominance attitudes did not predict either self-reported dominant behavior or peer-rated dominant behavior. Rebellion is far from being the mirror-image of dominance. Why this is so is not hard to see. Rebellion is only one possible response to dominance. Other possible responses might be: submission, attack, leaving the field and evasion. Dominance has many "opposites" (more strictly speaking, "contraries"), rebellion has many opposites and submission has many opposites. We perhaps really need separate scales for all three that embody all the various possible "opposites". Rigby's (1987b) "ABI" would appear to be close to the required scale of Rebelliousness.
In conclusion, it must seem a little sad that after at least 40 years of research there is still no general agreement about what "authoritarianism" in fact is. Consensus, however, is not an unalloyed scientific good and the positive side on the present occasion is that many options and possibilities are being explored. This could well be the optimally fruitful situation. Certainly, some surprising findings have emerged. The interrelationships between authoritarianism, achievement motivation and assertiveness were fairly unexpected and have probably still to reach the ears of most psychologists. They are certainly still rather novel ideas.
At any event, the many new scales that have come out of the Australian research do have at least the potential to revitalize research in this area.
Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) The authoritarian personality N.Y.: Harper.
Altemeyer, R.A. (1981) Right-wing authoritarianism Winnipeg: Univ. Manitoba Press.
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Brown, R. (1965) Social Psychology N.Y.:Free Press.
Christie, R., Havel,J. & Seidenberg, B.(1956) Is the F scale irreversible? J. Abnormal & Social Psychology 56, 141-158.
Christie, R. & Jahoda, M. (1954) Studies in the scope and method of "The authoritarian personality" Glencoe,Ill.: Free Press.
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Ray, J.J. (1980) Achievement motivation as an explanation of authoritarian behaviour: Data from Australia, South Africa California, England and Scotland. Chapter in: P.C.L. Heaven (Ed.) Authoritarianism: South African studies Bloemfontein: De Villiers.
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Ray, J.J. (1984). Half of all racists are Left-wing. Political Psychology, 5, 227-236.
Ray, J.J. (1984) Achievement motivation as a source of racism, conservatism and authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology 123, 21-28
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Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1986) A comparison of three scales of directiveness. Journal of Social Psychology 126, 249-250.
Rigby, K. (1984) Acceptance of authority and directiveness as indicators of authoritarianism: A new framework. J. Social Psychol. 122, 171-180.
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