Adorno et al. and Altemeyer’s Approach to Authoritarianism
Outline the similarities and differences between Adorno et al.’s (1950) and Altemeyer’s (1981) approach to authoritarianism.
Word limit: 1000 words
There is one process word: ‘outline’ (which means to convey the main points). In this case you need to outline the main points of similarity and difference between Adorno et al.’s (1950) and Altemeyer’s (1981) approach to authoritarianism.
Adorno et al. and Altemeyer’s Approach to Authoritarianism
Since the mid-twentieth century, different writers have extensively discussed authoritarianism. However, the 1950 work of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford has received extensive acknowledgment as a critical piece on the topic. Following the article, various writers wrote critical articles on its discussion. Adorno et al. (1950) presented the F-scale, which was designed for the measurement of pre-fascist tendencies and the explanation of the concept of authoritarianism. Robert Altemeyer achieved significant success in the discussion of Adorno et al. (1950) through the development of a reversed version of some items of the F-scale. This essay analyzes Altemeyer’s 1981 article, “Right-Wing Authoritarianism” and Adorno et al. (1950), “The Authoritarian Personality” focusing mainly on the similarities and differences between the articles.
Similarities and Differences between Adorno et al. (1950) and Altemeyer (1981)
According Brace and Byford (2012), Adorno et al. (1950) and Altemeyer (1981) depict an in-depth analysis of the concept of authoritarianism through extensive studies. Both articles administered tests to a broad pool of participants to investigate and determine their attitudes towards racial, religious, and ethnic minorities within different communities. While Adorno et al. used a sample of 2000 Americans, Altemeyer conducted the research using a Canadian sample population (Degregorio, 2007). The former applied the F-scale where the respondents were required to give their strength of agreement on multiple questions on matters concerning attitudes, politics, economics, and moral values. On the other hand, using his sample population, Altemeyer compared the unbalanced F-Scale used by Adorno et al. and with his balanced version (Brace & Byford, 2012). According to Adorno et al., people with authoritarian personality demonstrated prejudice. The article states that such people depict rigid thinking patterns, obedience to governing authorities, and a strong belief in the importance of submitting to the law and authorities (Degregorio, 2007).
In their findings, Adorno et al. (1950) identified nine dimensions for the description of authoritarian tendencies (Brace & Byford, 2012). These dimensions included conventionalism, aggression against minorities, submission to authorities, intolerant of ambiguity, stereotypic thinking, opposition to idealists, disdain for weakness, childhood maltreatment by parents, and preoccupation with the sexual lives of citizens (Degregorio, 2007). On the other hand, Altemeyer acknowledged the direct link between authoritarianism and conservative beliefs that Adorno et al. had identified. However, Altemeyer’s examination of the inter-correlations of responses led to the development of three attitude clusters that he acknowledged that Sanford, a co-author with Adorno had identified as a “strong superego.” According to Altemeyer, the “strong superego” could be presented as the three attitude clusters; authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism. As such, their findings were similar to a given degree. The authoritarian submission, aggression, and conventionalism were similar to Adorno et al.’s submission to authorities, aggressiveness directed towards people perceived to be sanctioned by the authorities, and adherence to social conventions respectively (Brace & Byford, 2012). Apart from these attitudes, Altemeyer argued that there is no significant evidence that the other dimensions existed thus depicting a significant difference in the studies (Degregorio, 2007).
Moreover, while Adorno et al. concluded that authoritarian governments lead to the development of hostility towards religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, Altemeyer argues against the conclusion. According to Adorno et al., prompt the hostility that minority groups within the society receive from the majority. However, Altemeyer differs with the authors on the matter. According to Altemeyer, the existence of an authoritarian government does not always result in the development of hostility towards the minorities. In support of his argument against the authors’ conclusion, Altemeyer argued that some Fascist governments did not depict hostility against the minority members. For instance, the author asserts that the Fascist Italy did not depict antisemitism under Mussolini’s government before the influence and pressure from Adolf Hitler. Jews in the country held high positions in the government without the prejudice and hostility that Adorno et al. suggest minorities in authoritarian governments would face (Degregorio, 2007).
Another difference between Adorno et al. (1950) and Altemeyer (1981) is the application of the F-Scale. Adorno and colleagues built their 29-item F-Scale from the consideration of the nine traits they attribute to the development of fascist tendencies. All these traits were theorized to surround a single factor whose evidence Altemeyer argues is weak and unsubstantial and thus casts doubt on the factorial validity of the method. Additionally, Altemeyer argues that the application of the method and other weak variables in Adorno et al. (1950) casts doubt on its convergent validity. Considering this, the author developed 14 contrait items, which met his guidelines and led to the development of a 29-item balanced version of the F-Scale. Unlike the F-Scale used by Adorno and colleagues that consisted of 29 protrait items, the balanced F-Scale applied by Altemeyer used 15 original portrait and 14 contrait items that were a reversal of the original protraits used by in Adorno et al. (Degregorio, 2007).
The findings of the two studies depict a difference on the issue of development of authoritarian tendencies in children. Adorno et al. asserted that authoritarian tendencies are developed while Altemeyer argued that children possess authoritarian tendencies from birth but gradually lose with exposure to tolerant environments as they grow (Brace & Byford, 2012). According to Adorno et al., all children are tolerant at birth but develop discriminative tendencies with exposure exposed to beliefs, societal conventions, and stereotypes (Adorno et al., 1950). However, Altemeyer disagrees and posits that social experiences help transform the selfish tendencies of young children.
The analysis of the Adorno et al.
and Altemeyer’s work outlines numerous similarities and differences whose
application offers a significant insight into understanding authoritarianism.
While the former apply the case of Nazis and the F-scale to outline the
dimensions for the fascist tendencies and the development of authoritarianism,
the latter conducts the research using a Canadian sample population. Further,
Altemeyer applied a 29-item balanced F-scale version and compared it with the
unbalanced F-scale version used by Adorno et al. The author recorded no
significant enhancement in the reliability and validity of his research with
the new balanced F-scale. However, the application and comparison of the
different scales led to the same conclusion that that different attitude
clusters define authoritarian personality and right-wing authoritarianism. The
authoritarian submission, the authoritarian aggression, and the authoritarian
conventionalism identified by Altemeyer as central to right-wing authoritarianism
were also identified by Adorno et al. who identified submissiveness,
aggressiveness and ethnocentrism among others as critical for the development
of authoritarian personality. Moreover, the authors disagree on whether
authoritarian governments prompt hostility towards minorities. While Adorno et
al. argue for the point, Altemeyer attributes the hostility to the attitude
Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R. N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper. https://www.worldcat.org/title/authoritarian-personality/oclc/259539
Altemeyer, R. A. (1981). Right-wing Authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-political-science-review/article/rightwing-authoritarianism-by-bob-altemeyer-winnipeg-university-of-manitoba-press-1981-pp-352-3000/56A98585DD4D63F39A447843B29A92A9
Brace, N. & Byford, J., 2012. Investigating psychology : key concepts, key studies, key approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Investigating_Psychology/J1zLygAACAAJ?hl=en
Degregorio, R. A., 2007. New developments in psychological testing. New York: Nova Science Publishers. https://www.google.com/books/edition/New_Developments_in_Psychological_Testin/wlorO8zq4x8C?hl=en&gbpv=0
Adorno et al. and Altemeyer’s Approach to Authoritarianism
The rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s, as well as the Nazis’ acts of aggression and atrocities during WWII, raised questions about why some people were prone to such levels of violence and hatred in the name of political ideology. The concept of the ‘Authoritarian Personality’ was proposed in 1950 by German sociologist Theodor Adorno and colleagues in response to their research identifying the personality traits thought to allow an individual to be biased towards and follow fascist ideology. Although initially met with great enthusiasm, many psychologists saw the authoritarian personality as insufficient to explain the potential for extreme prejudices, and its popularity waned.
Following a revision of Adorno et aloriginal .’s work, Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer reignited interest in authoritarianism in the early 1980s. Altemeyer, like Adorno et al, was only interested in right-wing political ideology, excluding the potential authoritarian personality characteristics associated with communism from their research. J. McAvoy (2012) defines formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized
Altemeyer was able to address the original work’s methodological flaws and propose a revised concept of authoritarianism as a result of his research.
Similarly, both bodies of research used standardised personality questionnaires to assess participants’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Although the questions in Altemeyer’s Right Wing Authoritarian scale (RWA scale) differed from those in Adorno et al’s Fascism Scale (F-Scale), both used a numerical scale against a fixed choice response per questionnaire statement to measure specific personality traits. This method enabled quantitative data to be generated from the numerical values collected for both research groups, as well as objective analysis of the responses (McAvoy, J. 2012).
Further research into questionnaires using scales since the publication of the F-scale has revealed a level of acquiescence response bias, or an inclination to agree with a statement regardless of its context, by some participants when completing questionnaires. The F-scale was designed in such a way that agreement to the questionnaire statement always indicated an authoritarian response, making it vulnerable to this problem. In contrast, the RWA scale was designed to include not only questions that were answered positively, indicating an authoritarian leaning but also statements that were answered negatively, indicating the same personality tendency (Smith, M. Brewster 1997). For example, the F-scale statement, “Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn,” (Adorno et al 1950), if answered positively, indicates a high authoritarian tendency. However, agreement with the following RWA scale statement; Our country needs free thinkers who will have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people, (Altemeyer, B. 1981) would indicate a low affiliation for authoritarianism. Unlike the F-scale, the inclusion of both supportive and critical statements about authoritarianism addressed the possibility of acquiescence response bias.
According to Adorno et alresearch, .’s the authoritarian personality consists of nine characteristics, including stereotypical gender role opinions, superstition, and concern with immoral sexual behavior McAvoy, J. (2012); (2012) Altemeyer’s research acknowledged and supported these findings, but his concept of authoritarianism was different. He defined RWA as a set of three attitudes similar to three of the characteristics Adorno et al used to describe the authoritarian personality:
A high level of respect and submission to perceived legitimate authority figures or establishments is referred to as authoritarian submission. Authoritarian aggression is defined as aggression directed against targets identified by established authorities. Conventionalism: An aversion to new ideas combined with a preference for social norms that should be followed by all members of the individual’s society (Bobbio et al 2007).
Although Altemeyer agreed with Adorno et al on the behavioral and attitudinal characteristics of authoritarianism, he proposed a key difference in his interpretation of where it originated. Adorno and colleagues used a psychoanalytic approach to explain the causes of authoritarianism, as popularized by Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth century. They claimed that children who were subjected to harsh parental discipline would develop a hatred for the parent that would be buried in their subconscious. This parenting style unconsciously contributed to their personality consisting of fixed unchangeable traits such as worship for authority figures, respect for harsh disciplinarians, and intolerance for those who are different from themselves. According to this causal interpretation, the authoritarian personality is susceptible to fascist ideology, as demonstrated by the Nazi party.
Altemeyer, on the other hand, rejected this subconscious-based explanation and instead proposed that the three right-wing authoritarian attitudes were caused by social learning theory, which was popularized by Albert Bandura’s research in the 1960s (Oates, J. 2012). According to his theory, behaviors such as unquestionable respect for authority, intolerance, and hostility toward alternative lifestyles or situations were learned through observation and direct instruction from disciplinarian parents and were a conscious process (Bandura, A. 1977). Furthermore, he claimed that individuals would be aware of the consequences of their actions if they made a conscious decision to act in a certain way, rather than the subconscious unchangeable personality causing their actions, as Adorno et al. claimed.
Similarly, neither Altemeyer’s RWA nor Adorno et al’s authoritarian personality considered the current socio-political environment as a causative factor, instead focusing on childhood experiences as a cause shaping attitudes or personality.
It is clear that both Adorno and Altemeyer had a negative attitude toward authoritarianism in the political arena. Both used similar methodology to demonstrate what an authoritarian person looked like and how they could be easily identified using their individual personality scales. They did, however, differ in their interpretation of the causes of authoritarianism, either as personality alone, as Adorno et al. suggested, or as a set of attitudes, as Altemeyer saw it.
Jost, J. T., Nam, H. H., Amodio, D. M., & Van Bavel, J. J. (2014). Political neuroscience: The beginning of a beautiful friendship. Political Psychology, 35, 3-42. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12162
Lyle, K. B., & Grillo, M. C. (2020). Why are consistently-handed individuals more authoritarian? The role of need for cognitive closure. Laterality, 25(4), 490-510. https://doi.org/10.1080/1357650X.2020.1765791