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The Measurement of Authoritarian Attitudes

Jackson, Douglas N.; Messick, Samuel J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute of Mental Health, Attitude Measures, Authoritarianism, California F Scale (Adorno, et al.), Personality Measures, Response Style (Tests)


Issues related to the use of the California F scale to measure authoritarianism are discussed. The F scale has been shown to correlate with measures of ethnocentrism, misanthropy, intolerance for ambiguity, rigidity, dogmatism, xenophobia, and suggestibility. An acquiescent response set to the way the items are worded may be more of a factor in these correlations than the item content. This makes interpretation difficult, raises questions about the reported correlations, and suggests the need for a revision of the F scale as an attitude measure. One approach to item construction would begin with the theory described by Adorno, et al.'s, "The Authoritarian Personality," which considers authoritarianism to be a complex system of interrelated components. It would be reasonable to isolate some dimensions statistically; then homogeneous scales would be constructed to measure each trait separately. Effects such as acquiescence or social desirability should either be eliminated by experimental controls or measured separately. Ways to control for acquiescent response set include multiple choice items, forced choice paired comparisons, or phrasing half the items positively and half negatively. The efficacy of the experimental controls and their effect on content interpretation should also be studies and evaluated. If the personality theory is supported by an empirical isolation of interrelated factors, then this approach would yield a set of scales to measure various aspects of the authoritarian syndrome and would permit a reevaluation of previously established correlates of authoritarian ideology.

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