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Adorno and his colleagues (1950) wanted to understand the anti-semitism on the holocaust. On the basis of their research they came to believe that

A high level of obedience was basically a psychological disorder, and tried to locate the causes of it in the personality of the individual


Adorno concluded that people with authoritarian personality:

- have a tendency to be especially obedient to authority
- have extreme respect for authority and submissiveness to it
- show contempt for people they perceive as having inferior social status and have highly conventional attitudes towards sex, race and gender
- view society as ‘going to the dogs’ and therefore strong leaders are required to enforce traditional values such as love of one’s country and family


How is the authoritarian personality formed?

-Adorno et al concluded that the authoritarian personality is formed in childhood, as a result of harsh parenting
- typically, the parenting style identified by Adorno features extreme disciplines, an expectation of absolute loyalty, impossibly high standards and severe criticism of perceived failings
- also characterised by conditional love, that is, the parents’ love and affection for their child depends entirely on how he/she behaves


Why do individuals with authoritarian personalities have a dislike (and even hatred) for people considered to be socially inferior?

- Adorno argued that these experiences create resentment and hostility in the child
- but the child cannot express these feelings directly against their parents due to fear or reprisal
- so the fears are displaced onto others who are perceived as weaker- process called scapegoating, and explains why those with authoritarian personalities have a dislike (and even hatred) for people considered to be socially inferior = psychodynamic explanation as the ego uses the defence of displacement to deal with conflict


Adorno et al conducted a key study in 1950:

The authoritarian personality


Explain the procedure of the authoritarian personality:

- Adorno investigated the causes of obedient personality in a study of more than 2000 middle-class, white Americans and their unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups
- they developed several scales to investigate this, including the potential for fascism scale (F-scale) which is still used to measure authoritarian personality
- example question from F-scale includes: “obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues for children to learn” where answer boxes range from 1= disagree strongly—> 6= agree strongly


What were the findings and conclusions of Adorno et al (1950) The Authoritarian Personality?

- people with authority leanings (I.e. those who scored high on F-scale) were identified as ‘strong’ people and were generally contemptuous of the weak- they were very conscious of their own and others’ status, showing excessive respect and servility to those of higher status
- authoritarian people had a cognitive style where there was no ‘fuziness’ between categories of people, with fixed and distinctive stereotypes about other groups- there was a strong correlation between authoritarianism and prejudice


What are the evaluation points for authoritarian personality as an explanation for obedience?

✅ research support for link between authoritarian personality and obedience (Milgram and Elms)
❌ limited explanation
❌ explanation based on flawed methodology (Greenstein)
❌ problem for much of research of authoritarian personality is the use of correlations


Explain how there is research support for link between authoritarian personality and obedience (Milgram and Elms)

- Milgram and Elms conducted interviews with a small sample of fully obedient participants from one of Milgram’s studies who all scored highly on the F-scale
- however this link is merely a correlation between two measured variables= this makes it impossible to draw the conclusion that authoritarian personality causes obedience on the basis of the result
- it may be that a ‘third factor’ is involved- perhaps obedience and authoritarian personality are associated with a lower level of education and are not directly linked with each other at all


Explain how the authoritarian explanation is a limited explanation

- in pre-war Germany, millions of individuals all displayed obedient, racist and anti-Semitic behaviour; this was despite the fact that they must have differed in their personalities in all sorts of ways
- it would extremely unlikely that the majority of the country’s population all possessed an authoritarian personality
- this is a limitation of Adorno’s theory because it is clear that an alternative explanation is much more realistic- perhaps social identity explains obedience
- the majority of German people identified with the anti-Semitic Nazi state, and scapegoated the ‘outgroup’ of Jews


Explain how the explanation is based upon flawed methodology

- Greenstein goes as far to describe the F-scale as a ‘comedy of methodological errors’
- for example, the scale has every one of its items worded in the same ‘direction’
- this means it is possible to get a high score for authoritarianism just by ticking the same line of boxes down one side of the page
- people who agree with the items on the F-scale are therefore not necessarily authoritarian but merely ‘acquiesces’, and the scale is just measuring the tendency to agree on everything, which is a significant limitation for the authoritarian personality as an explanation for obedience as this dispositional explanation is based upon the F-scale and the participants’ outcomes from this- one possible way in which this can be overcome is instead of providing


Explain how a problem for much of research of authoritarian personality is the use of correlations

- Adorno and his colleagues measured an impressive range of variables and found many significant correlations between them
- for instance they found that authoritarianism had a strong correlation with measured of prejudice against minority groups
- however, no matter how a strong a correlation between two variables may be, correlation doesn’t mean causation and so it does not follow that one variable causes the other
- therefore, Adorno could not claim that a harsh parenting style caused the development of an authoritarian personality