J. Applied Social Psychology 1990, 20, 1453-1455.
AIDS, AUTHORITARIANISM AND SCIENTIFIC IGNORANCE: A COMMENT ON WITT
University of N.S.W., Australia
Witt shows that scores on the F scale predict negative affect towards
AIDS. He interprets this in the light of the authoritarian personality
theory of Adorno et al despite the discredited nature of that theory.
An alternative explanation of the findings in the light of the view
that the F scale measures primarily an old-fashioned orientation is
It is truly amazing that research which depends on the work of
Adorno et al (1950) should still be finding its way into print without
at the same time showing any awareness of the decades-long torrent of
criticism that has been directed at the Adorno et al work. A recent
paper in this journal (Witt, 1989) is only one of several such feats of
unawareness that have recently seen the light of day. See, for
instance, Van Ijzendoorn (1989), Meloen et al (1988) and Fisher et al
It would be superfluous for me to set out yet again what is wrong
with the Adorno et al theory (See Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Titus &
Hollander, 1957; Rokeach, 1960; Brown, 1965; Titus, 1968; McKinney,
1973; Ray, 1976; Altemeyer, 1981; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983) but it may
suffice to observe that the theory was developed as an explanation of
racism and claims that racism is deviant. Students of intergroup
relations now hardly ever mention the theory (See Brewer & Kramer,
1985; Messick & Mackie, 1989 and Tajfel, 1982) and the textbook view of
the phenomena of racism now seems to be that they are "universal
ineradicable psychological processes" (Brown, 1986). See also Tajfel &
Fraser (1978). Witt (1989), therefore, shows not only his ignorance of
the authoritarianism literature but also his ignorance of the
literature on prejudice (which he purports to study). This seems to
be, unfortunately, yet another instance (See Ray, 1986) of the non-
cumulative (and hence non-scientific) nature of much current
Since the interpretation of his findings given by Witt is not
soundly-based, is there another, more sustainable, explanation
available? There is.
What Witt found was that scores on a one-way-worded version of the
Adorno F scale correlated with negative affect towards AIDS. I have on
several occasions (e.g. Ray, 1983, 1987 & 1988) set out evidence in
favour of the view that the F scale measures primarily an old-fashioned
orientation. Such a view also makes sense of the Witt (1989) results.
As Witt himself points out, there is a substantial perception of AIDS
as a "gay" disease. Yet acceptance of homosexuality is essentially a
recent phenomenon. Homosexuality is still in many places around the
world illegal. So anyone lost in the culture of the past is being
influenced by an anti-homosexual culture. So all that Witt has really
shown is that old-fashioned people dislike homosexuality and all that
is associated with it. This is a much less arcane explanation of the
findings than the Adorno-influenced one that Witt offers but it does
have the advantage of according with the evidence on what the F scale
measures. It is doubtful, however, that this interpretation can
support the contention by Witt to the effect that his findings have
implications for health education.
To sum up the difficulties for Witt's account: 1). The F scale is
not valid as a measure of authoritarianism (see e.g. Titus, 1968 or Ray
& Lovejoy, 1983). 2). As well as the problems with the F scale, the
Adorno et al theory has been shown to be wrong in a large number of
other ways -- e.g. it says that prejudice is deviant when in fact it is
Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N.
(1950). The authoritarian personality New York: Harper.
Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism Winnipeg:
University of Manitoba Press.
Brewer, M.B. & Kramer, R.M.(1985) The psychology of intergroup
attitudes and behavior. Annual Review of Psychology
Brown, R.(1965) Social psychology N.Y.: Free Press.
Brown, R.(1986) Social psychology (2nd. Ed.) N.Y.: Free Press.
Christie, R. & Jahoda, M. (1954) Studies in the scope and method of
"The authoritarian personality" Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.
Fisher, W.A.; Byrne, D.; White, L.A. & Kelley, K. (1988) Erotophobia
-erotophilia as a dimension of personality. J. Sex Research
McKinney, D.W. (1973) The authoritarian personality studies
The Hague: Mouton.
Meloen, J.D., Hagendoorn, L., Raaijmakers, Q. & Visser, L. (1988)
Authoritarianism and the revival of political racism: Reassessment
in the Netherlands of the reliability and validity of the
concept of authoritarianism by Adorno et al
Political Psychology 9, 413-429.
Messick, D.M. & Mackie, D.M. (1989) Intergroup relations.
Annual Review of Psychology 40, 45-81.
Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.
Ray, J.J. (1983). Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.
Ray, J.J. (1986) Measuring achievement motivation by self-reports. Psychological Reports 58, 525-526.
Ray, J.J. (1987) Intolerance of ambiguity among psychologists: A comment on Maier & Lavrakas. Sex Roles 16, 559-562.
Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.
Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1983). The behavioral validity of some recent measures of authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120, 91-99.
Rokeach, M. (1960) The open and closed mind N.Y.: Basic Books.
Tajfel, H. (1982) Social psychology of intergroup relations.
Annual Review of Psychology 33, 1-40.
Tajfel, H. & Fraser, C. (1978) Introducing social psychology
Harmondsworth, Mddx.: Penguin.
Titus, H.E. (1968). F scale validity considered against peer
nomination criteria. Psychological Record, 18, 395-403.
Titus, H.E. & Hollander, E.P. (1957) The California F scale in
psychological research: 1950-1955. Psychological Bulletin
Van Ijzendoorn, M.H. (1989) Moral judgment, authoritarianism and
ethnocentrism. J. Social Psychology 129, 37-45.
Witt, L.A. (1989) Authoritarianism, knowledge of AIDS and affect
towards persons with AIDS: Implications for health education.
J. Applied Psychology 19, 599-607.
Witt replied to this article -- leading to a rejoinder to be found here
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