Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Attitudes toward Torture

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Attitudes toward Torture

Article excerpt

In recent years, interest has increased in the study of the correlates and predictors of attitudes toward violence and human rights abuses (see, e.g., Anderson, Benjamin, Wood, & Bonacci, 2006; Benjamin, 2006, 2014; Crowson, Debacker, & Thoma, 2006; Swami et al., 2012), including attitudes toward torture (e.g., Crandall, Eidelman, Skitka, & Morgan, 2009; Larsson, Björklund, & Bäckström, 2012). Political science researchers have suggested that North Americans' attitudes toward torture are generally ambivalent (Gronke et al., 2010) and that if individuals are aware of international law regarding the prohibition of torture, this influences their attitude toward torture (Wallace, 2013). Outside of research on individual differences, there is a body of social psychological research in which it has been suggested that the manner in which torture is framed in mass media can influence individuals' attitudes toward torture in favorable or unfavorable directions (see, e.g., Benjamin & Oelke, in press; Crandall et al., 2009).

The present study bears some similarity to that of Larsson et al. (2012), in that in both my study and the research conducted by Larsson et al. right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) is utilized as a predictor of attitudes toward torture. Unlike Larsson et al., I have examined RWA in isolation, rather than in combination with social dominance orientation (SDO; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994), and have examined more systematically than did Larsson et al. which of the three RWA dimensions specified by Altemeyer (1996) is significantly related to attitudes toward torture.

To the extent that attitudes toward torture bear some similarity to other social attitudes toward violence that have been found to correlate significantly with RWA (e.g., Benjamin, 2006, 2014), I expected that RWA would be significantly related to attitudes toward torture. Therefore, I predicted that there would be a positive relationship between RWA and attitudes toward torture. Furthermore, to the extent that it has been postulated that individual differences in aggressionrelated attitudes are antecedents to a variety of aggression-related cognitions and appraisals (see, e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2002), I predicted that authoritarian aggression-that is, the tendency to accept and engage in harm toward others as long as such harm has been sanctioned by accepted authority figures (see, e.g., Altemeyer, 1996)-would be positively related to attitudes toward torture, whereas the other two dimensions of RWA (see also Altemeyer, 1996)-that is, the tendency to show strong acceptance and adherence to social conventions (conventionalism) and general willingness to accept the statements and actions of authority figures and to comply with the demands made by authority (authoritarian submission)-would not be positively related to attitudes toward torture.

Study 1

On the basis of previous research (Altemeyer, 1996; Benjamin, 2006, 2014; Larsson et al., 2012), I designed the first study to further establish that there is a positive relationship between RWA and attitudes toward torture, utilizing a North American sample. I predicted that higher levels of authoritarianism would be associated with more favorable attitudes toward torture.


Participants were 87 students (42 women, 41 men, and four who declined to specify gender) at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. They ranged in age from 18 to 55 years (M = 23.49). After reading and signing the informed consent statement, participants read a brief statement in which a variety of enhanced interrogation methods were described, followed by a battery of questionnaires, including the Attitudes Toward Torture Questionnaire (Crandall et al., 2009) and the 34-item RWA Scale (Altemeyer, 1996). The Attitudes Toward Torture Questionnaire consists of seven items that are designed to assess individuals' opinions about the use of the interrogation techniques described in the stimulus materials (e. …

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