This is one of a series of excerpts from older articles put online by John Ray as a public service. The articles concerned are in general otherwise available only by special request to a University or other major library.


The Psychological Record, 1968, 18, 395-403.

F scale validity considered against peer nomination criteria


Muskingum College

Widespread use of the F scale as a measure of authoritarianism continues despite uncertainty concerning the facet of authoritarianism it measures. This research examined the relationship between peer perception of authoritarian behaviors and F-scale scores. Only a minimal relationship was found. No relationship was found between the number of authoritarian behaviors on which a person was consistently rated high and his F-scale score. It was concluded that it is unlikely that the F scale measures validly authoritarian behavior as it is usually conceived, though it seemed sensitive to some form of authoritarian submission.

Any consideration of the validity of the California F scale must specify the manner in which the writer views authoritarianism. Hollander (1954) has noted that "authoritarianism" may be conceived of in three primary ways: ( a ) as an ideology, ( b ) as a set of behaviors, or ( c ) as an institutional form. Since each of these forms connotes something different from the others, one cannot assume that if the F scale validly measures one form of authoritarianism, it will necessarily measure validly the other two. Available evidence (Campbell & McCandless, 1951; Flowerman, Stewart, & Strauss, 1950; Goldstein, 1952) suggests that F-scale scores adequately reflect prejudice and ethnocentric ideology. In addition, evidence has been presented indicating cultural (Cohn & Carsch, 1954; Prothro & Melikian, 1953) or subcultural (Bass, McGehee, Hawkins, Young, & Gebel, 1953; Christie & Garcia, 1951) influences on F-scale scores. It has been observed, however, that ". . The F scale correlates most systematically with other pencil and paper measures, and least systematically with interpersonal behaviors, particularly as situational conditions are varied" (Titus & Hollander, 1957, p. 62).

It seems remarkable that very little attention has been devoted to a consideration of the behavioral validity of the F scale in nearly two decades of use. Perhaps this is largely because the California group placed its primary emphasis elsewhere. To the present writer, the question of the behavioral validity of the scale is of maximal importance since individual differences which do not have behavioral referents are both exceedingly difficult to evaluate experimentally and more prone to lead to erroneous interpretations. A considerable number of studies (Bass et al., 1953; Crutchfield, 1955; Handlon & Squier, 1955; McCurdy & Eber, 1953; Medalia, 1955; Rorer, 1965; Rosen, 1951; Sampson, 1953; Thibaut & Riecken, 1955) have shown correlations between the F scale and a variety of behaviors. However, unless we are willing to accept the circular logic which suggests that "the F scale is behaviorally valid because it correlates with behaviors that are authoritarian because they correlate with the F scale," we must look beyond this class of studies which merely presents behavioral correlates. Few investigators have dealt directly with the behavioral validity of the F scale using behaviors which were defined as authoritarian on theoretical grounds without reference to the F scale. A notable exception was Wells (Wells, 1954; Wells, Chiaravallo, & Goldman, 1957) who studied differences between high and low F-scale scorers on 12 classroom behaviors such as "cutting class" and "degree of participation." Only one variable yielded a significant difference between high and low scorers. This led him to conclude that ". . . perceptual and cognitive differences between high scorers and low scorers cannot be directly and unambiguously translated into behavioral terms" (Wells, 1954, p. 37). It would seem, however, that the possibility also existed that the behaviors studied by Wells were too specific to the situation and that his subjects' behaviors in such situations were sufficiently restricted in range so as to produce the non-significant results.

Research involving the method of peer nominations (Hollander, 1954, 1957) has revealed it to be both reliable and valid in a broad range of situations which include its use as a criterion against which psychological measures have been validated (Flanagan, Sivvy, Lang, & Jacobs, 1952). The method was selected here as a means to obtain an estimate of our subjects authoritarian behaviors as perceived by their classmates. It seemed reasonable to assume that groups of students who had been together in all of their classes for a relatively long period of time (approximately six semesters) were a good source of valid information about each other's behavior. The method also offered the advantage of considerable flexibility with respect to defining behaviors that were less specific to a particular situation.

The goal of the present investigation was to: ( a ) determine the extent to which F-scale scores would correlate with peer ratings of selected authoritarian behaviors, and ( b ) determine if F-scale scores are related to the number of authoritarian behaviors on which a person is consistently rated "high."



The Ss were drawn from two engineering departments at Carnegie Institute of Technology. All Ss were male and in their third year of college. One group, electrical engineers, contained 71 Ss; while the other group, mechanical engineers, contained 89 Ss. Although participation in the study was entirely voluntary, the vast majority of potential Ss did, indeed, participate. Perhaps the best indication of the Ss' cooperative attitude was the willingness of almost all of them to make all of the ratings this study demanded. It should be noted that high esteem for research was part of the campus ethos and the present study had the support of the faculties of the respective departments.


Each of the Ss was randomly presented with one of two forms of a questionnaire booklet which, in addition to the F scale, included peer nomination forms for four behavioral characteristics and an analogous form for friendship choice. The authoritarian characteristics were broad descriptions of behavior that are frequently implied to be related to authoritarianism and which seem to be logically related to the classical conceptions of authoritarianism. Each of the four characteristics was worded both positively and negatively (with respect to expected direction of correlation with F-scale scores), thus permitting the counterbalancing of unacceptable characteristics with somewhat more acceptable ones. The characteristics were as follows:

( a ) + Likes to push others around.
.........- Avoids pushing others around.
( b ) + Tends to follow the orders of superiors without critical thought.
..........- Tends . to follow the orders of superiors only after critical thought.
( c ) + Is inclined to be suspicious of the motives of others.
.........- Is inclined to trust the motives of others.
( d ) + Rarely modifies behavior regardless of the circumstances of the situation.
.........- Often modifies his behavior to fit the circumstances of the situation.

The purpose of having two wordings of the characteristics was to overcome the possibility of bias resulting from asking Ss to rate classmates on characteristics all of which seemed to be contrary to the social norms of the institution. Also, to guard against the possibility of the peer nominations degenerating into a "popularity contest," the friendship ratings were gathered to permit the elimination of variance due to popularity in correlations between the F-scale scores and the behavioral characteristics. Finally, ACE- scores were secured from records maintained by the institution to permit the elimination of intellectual influence on the correlations since frequently F-scale scores have shown a significant negative correlation with intelligence.....

The reliabilities of the various peer nominations were considered to be adequate despite a few that were low (See Table 1). It was found in some cases that low reliability accounted for the low level of correlation between the positive and negative wordings; however, these cases did not represent the same items in both groups.

Both intelligence and popularity were controlled by means of partial correlation techniques. Such controls were found to be unnecessary, however, since neither variable accounted for more than a negligible amount of variance in our obtained correlations.

Only one of the behaviors, "tends to follow the orders of superiors without critical thought," correlated positively and significantly with F-scale scores in both groups. Its mate, "tends to follow the orders of superiors only after critical thought," correlated significantly with F scale scores in the mechanical engineer group, but the correlation failed to reach significance in the electrical engineer group. No other behavioral characteristic correlated significantly with F-scale scores. This picture was essentially unchanged even when the correlations were corrected for attenuation. The only exception was the significant correlation between "is inclined to trust the motives of others" and F-scale scores. This significant correlation was, however, opposite in direction from expectations based on the theories of authoritarianism

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