Authoritarian personality

Authoritarian personality

This article describes the psychological trait of authoritarianism. For the form of government that bears the same name, see Authoritarianism
The authoritarian personality is an influential theory of personality developed by University of California at Berkeley psychologists, Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford in their 1950 book of the same name. The personality type is defined by nine traits that were believed to cluster together as the result of psychodynamic, childhood experiences. These traits are conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, anti-intraception, superstition and stereotypy, power and "toughness," destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity, and exaggerated concerns over sex. In brief, the authoritarian is predisposed to follow the dictates of a strong leader and traditional, conventional values.

Recently, John Dean made use of the theory (as well as research by Robert Altemeyer) to analyze the contemporary political climate in his book Conservatives Without Conscience.

Psychoanalytic aspect

Adorno and his colleagues regarded the fundamental basis of this presumed system of personality qualities and its linkage to certain attitudes according to a psychoanalytic viewpoint: experiences in early childhood and their internalization.

Freud's psychoanalytic theory suggests that men along with women and norms that are first represented in the person of the father are internalized in the course of the child's development. From these the first unconscious stage of the so-called superego develop. The grappling with an authoritarian, very strict father leads to the development of a very strong superego. Thereby, from the earliest childhood onward, unconscious desires and drives (e.g., power and sexual license) must be thrust down and remain unsatisfied.

The unconscious conflicts that are unleashed thereby are solved when the person projects the "forbidden" drives and aggressions of his superego onto other people. As a rule, ethnic, political or religious minorities are selected as a screen for these projections, because this way there are no social sanctions to fear. Often, he can fall back on socially acceptable prejudices. Studies by Hans Eysenck, Milton Rokeach and many others go into this question.

Alfred Adler provided another perspective, linking the "will to power over others" as a central neurotic trait, usually emerging as aggressive over-compensation for felt and dreaded feelings of inferiority and insignificance. The authoritarian need to maintain control and prove superiority over others is rooted in a world view populated by enemies, empty of equality, empathy, and mutual benefit.


Besides these problematic concerns, many have criticized applying the theory with too broad a sphere of validity. These critics contend that the authors did not account for variables that reflect socioeconomic status such as class, religious indoctrination, and level of education. Some have argued that, if these other variables had been taken into account, they would have given simpler explanations (see Occam's razor) and increased the practical relevance of the study.

Another criticism is that the theory of the Berkeley group insinuates that authoritarianism exists only on the right of the political spectrum. As a result, some have claimed that the theory is corrupted by political bias.

Despite some methodological deficiencies, the theory of the authoritarian personality has had a major influence on subsequent research. In Germany, research on authoritarianism has been more recently carried out by, among others, Klaus Roghmann, Detlef Oesterreich and Christel Hopf. The most active researcher in the field today is probably the Dutch psychologist J.D. Meloen, or his lesser-known contemporary, Breeon "Willie" Coolens, whose groundbreaking work included the scholarly paper "The Authoritarian Model", which deconstructed an American known simply as "Porter." Many in the field consider Porter to be the "quintessential authoritarian." Conversely, the most active critic of the theory has been Australian psychologist John J. Ray. Most academic journal articles that mention the theory, however, assume that it is at least largely true.

Four academic journal articles may be useful in assessing the evidence for and against the theory:

  • Ray, J.J. (1988). "Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review". Political Psychology 9 (4): 671–679.
  • Ray, J.J. (1990). "The old-fashioned personality". Human Relations 43 997–1015.
  • Martin, John Levi (2001). "The Authoritarian Personality, 50 Years Later: What Questions Are There for Political Psychology?". Political Psychology 22 (1): 1–26.
  • Coolens, Breeon (2006). "The Authoritarian Model: Who is He, and Why is He Here?". Scandanavian Journal of Modern Psychology 8 (12): 314–327.

See also


External links

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