The Psychology of Prejudice

By Mark P. Zanna; James M. Olson | Go to book overview
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6 Reducing Prejudice in Right- Wing Authoritarians

Bob Altemeyer University of Manitoba

Since its earliest days, the study of the authoritarian personality has been intimately involved with our struggle to understand prejudice ( Adorno, Frenkel- Brunswik , Levinson, & Sanford, 1950). The famous team of researchers who collected around Nevitt Sanford at Berkeley during World War II set out, in the first instance, to understand the anti-Semitism then rushing to its catastrophic climax in Europe. The "Berkeley researchers" found that anti-Semites were profoundly ethnocentric as well, disliking a wide range of outgroups while overglorifying their own ingroups. Interviews of persons who scored highly on an Ethnocentrism scale revealed, the Berkeley team thought, an underlying personality structure that they labeled prefascist. Whereupon they developed another attitude scale to ensnare the potentially fascist personality. Remarkably, scores on that test, the Fascism scale, and ethnocentrism correlated about .75 over a wide range of samples.

It turned out, however, that those dazzling findings were largely produced by methodological shortcomings ( Christie & Jahoda, 1954). In particular, the high E and F scale correlations were due to shared response sets. Some people answering a psychological test tend to say "Yes" or "Agree" when they do not understand the question, have no real opinion, or (horrors!) do not particularly care about the researcher's quest. Others, perhaps positively unhappy about having been maneuvered into serving in the studies, disagree right and left. Because all the items on the E and F scales were worded in the protrait, ethnocentric/fascist direction, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union would score higher than Adolf Hitler on these tests if, to get rid of the researcher, he or she merely said "agree" to each item. This yea-saying would bond the two scales together, whatever they measured.

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