The authoritarian personality


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Abstract

Reviews the book, The Authoritarian Personality by T. W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford, with the collaboration of Betty Aron, Maria Hertz Levinson, and William Morrow (see record 1950-05796-000). In more ways than one, this long-awaited report on the “Berkeley Study” is a landmark in the development of social psychology and personality study. The most ambitious of several investigations of anti-Semitism sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, it is certainly the most extensive and sophisticated research on the topic yet contributed by psychologists. Its contributions to our systematic knowledge of personality organization and to research methodology are scarcely less striking. Finally, and regrettably, the volume's near-thousand pages make it a physical landmark in the library shelves of the constant reader, presenting a somewhat formidable obstacle to the assimilation of its implications. Space permits critical comment on only a few major aspects of the study. From the standpoint of method, its greatest weakness lies in the traditional pre-war scaling techniques on which its statistical groundwork depends. The Likert scales suffice, to be sure, to show that there is something there; they are, however, very inefficient instruments for analyzing its nature. Much of the psychological interpretation of the scale results, particularly by subscales, logically requires the sort of foundation that the newer scaling methods of Guttman and Lazarsfeld might provide. The item analysis approach inherent in Likert scale construction permeates the entire research, whether questionnaires, interviews, or projective techniques are involved. A further consequence of the item-analysis orientation is an occasionally misleading preoccupation with extreme groups as compared with the middle ranges. The reviewer questions the wisdom of the deliberate policy that worded all items on the most important scales so that agreement implies a high (or prejudiced, anti-democratic) score. Aside from limitations in the logic of item analysis already touched upon, the systematic treatment of the interview records is brilliant. The dominant theoretical orientation of the book is that of sophisticated yet fairly orthodox psychoanalysis. Not the least contribution of the book is the incidental light it throws on a large number of theoretical problems. The principal findings, for example, have illuminating implications concerning the cohesiveness of many features commonly agreed to belong to the contemporary American culture complex—even down to a level at which the combined charges of communism and homosexuality recently directed at the State Department emerge in a grisly congruence. The student of sex differences, to pick another example, will find the basis for many stimulating hypotheses throughout the volume. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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