The Journal of Social Psychology, 1984, 122, 283-284.


University of New South Wales, Australia


Using Australian tertiary students as Ss, Rigby and Rump (1) found several indices of "authoritarian personality" correlating significantly with their new measure of authoritarian attitudes. They conceive authoritarian personality, however, primarily in terms of cognitive style variables. It is submitted, however, that all the measures used by Rigby and Rump had a common component of conservatism which alone could have accounted for the correlations. It seems fairly uncontroversial that attitudes acceptant of conventional authority are by definition conservative (2) but one or two items from the Rigby and Rump scale should illustrate this: "The police have a hard job which they carry out well," "Laws are so often made for the benefit of small, selfish groups that one cannot respect the law." The first is pro-authority but surely also conservative while the second is anti-authority but surely also radical.

The highest correlate of the attitude to authority scale was the tolerance of complexity scale of the O. P.I. Some items from this scale are: "Usually, I prefer known ways of doing things rather than trying out new ways," "Politically, I am something of a radical."

The next highest correlation is with the Ray Balanced Dogmatism scale Mark I. In its development study (3) this scale was reported to correlate .34 with conservatism of political preference and it has been reported elsewhere (4) that in at least part of the data used by Rigby and Rump the positive and negative halves of the scale failed to correlate. The scale therefore lacks basic construct validity.

The next highest correlation was with the Budner Intolerance of Ambiguity scale, which contains items like "What we are used to is always preferable to what is unfamiliar" and "I like parties where I know most of the people more than ones where all or most are complete strangers." To at least some extent this scale, too, measures conservatism or caution as much as anything else. It also showed a reliability of only .49 on its norming study and its positive and negative halves have been shown elsewhere not to correlate (5). Hence it too is severely deficient in basic construct validity.

In the Rigby Photo Ambiguity Test, the score consists of the number of matches made between photographs of babies and photographs of their purported fathers. High scores, then, surely measure nothing more than incautiousness (as none of the "fathers" and "babies" was in fact related) which is definitionally linked to conservatism. The test also has no known reliability.

In the Bieri cognitive simplicity test, if the respondent rates the stimulus persons all as "+ 1" or "-1" (the two middling scores) the respondent would purportedly be very simple in his cognitive style, but this is absurd: such responses indicate perceptions of many "greys" rather than "blacks and whites." The meaning of the correlation could then be the opposite to that claimed. Moreover, this scale, too, was not examined for reliability by Rigby and Rump.

Finally, the Rump checklist contains items such as "conservative," "rebellious," "conventional," "reserved," "play it safe." Ascribing such traits to oneself indicates conservatism as much as anything else. In general, Rigby and Rump have fallen into the error, decried by Smedslund (6) of having presented as empirical findings what are really definitionally required relationships. They have at most shown that various conservatism scales tend to intercorrelate.


1. Rigby, K., & Rump, E. E. Attitudes towards authority and authoritarian personality characteristics. J. Soc. Psychol., 1982, 116, 61-72.

2. Ray, J.J. (1973) 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.

3. Ray, J.J. (1970) The development and validation of a balanced Dogmatism scale. Australian Journal of Psychology, 22, 253-260.

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

5. Ray, J.J. (1981) Explaining Australian attitudes towards Aborigines Ethnic & Racial Studies 4, 348-352.

6. Smedslund, J. Bandura's theory of self-efficacy: A set of common-sense theorems. Scand. J. Psychol., 1978, 19, 1-14.

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