by Saul McLeod published 2009
Adorno et al. (1950) proposed that prejudice is the results of an individual’s personality type.
They piloted and developed a questionnaire, which they called the F-scale (F for fascism). Adorno argued that deep-seated personality traits predisposed some individuals to be highly sensitive to totalitarian and antidemocratic ideas and therefore were prone to be highly prejudicial. The evidence they gave to support this conclusion included:
• Case studies, e.g. Nazis
• Psychometric testing (use of the F-scale)
• Clinical interviews revealed situational aspects of their childhood, such as the fact that they had been brought up by very strict parents or guardians, which were found of participants who scored highly on the F-scale not always found in the backgrounds of low scorers.
Those with an authoritarian personality tended to be:
• Hostile to those who are of inferior status, but obedient of people with high status
• Fairly rigid in their opinions and beliefs
• Conventional, upholding traditional values
Adorno concluded that people with authoritarian personalities where likely to categories people into “us” and “them” groups, seeing their own group as superior. Therefore, the study indicated that individuals with a very strict upbringing by critical and harsh parents were most likely to develop an authoritarian personality.
Adorno believed that this was because the individual in question was not able to express hostility towards their parents (for being strict and critical). Consequently, the person would then displace this aggression / hostility onto safer targets, namely those who are weaker, such as ethnic minorities.
Adorno et al. felt that authoritarian traits, as identified by the F-Scale, predispose some individuals towards 'fascistic' characteristics such as:
• Ethnocentrism, i.e. the tendency to favor one's own ethnic group:
• Obsession with rank and status
• Respect for and submissiveness to authority figures
• Preoccupation with power and toughness.
In other words, according to Adorno, the Eichmanns of this world are there because the have authoritarian personalities and therefore are predisposed cruelty, as a result of their upbringing.
There is evidence that the authoritarian personality exists. This might help to explain why some people are more resistant to changing their prejudiced views.
Evaluation for the Authoritarian Personality
There are many weaknesses to Adorno’s explanation of prejudice:
• Harsh parenting style does not always produce prejudice children / individuals
• Some prejudice people do not conform to the authoritarian personality type.
• Doesn’t explain why people are prejudice against certain groups and not others.
Furthermore, the authoritarian explanation of prejudice does not explain how whole social groups (e.g. the Nazis) can be prejudiced. This would mean that all members of a group (e.g. Nazis) would have an authoritarian personality, which is quite unlikely. Cultural or social norms would seem to offer a better explanation of prejudice and conflict than personality variables. Adorno has also been criticized for his limited sample. Also, Hyman and Sheatsley (1954) found that lower educational level was probably a better explanation of high F-scale scores than an authoritarian
Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R. N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper and Row (pp. 228).
Hyman, Herbert H., and Paul Sheatsley. (1956). “Attitudes Toward Desegregation.” Scientific American, 195: 35-39.
How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2009). . Retrieved from
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