Prejudice and Personality

Is there a distinct personality style that is strongly associated with prejudiced attitudes? For a long time this question was deliberated but it was only with the publication of ‘Authoritarian Personality’ by Adorno that the personality approach to prejudice finally came to its own and became popular. The authoritarian personality explanations of prejudice is based on two pronged hypothesis –

  1. That the political, economic, and social convictions of an individual often form a broad coherent pattern as if bound together by ‘mentality’ or ‘spirit’.
  2. That this pattern is an expression of deep lying trends in his personality.
quote-intolerance of ambiguity is the mark by Theodor Adorno

In other words intergroup attitudes

  1. Are a part of broader ideological framework and are thus correlated with other political, social and economic beliefs
  2. This correlation exists because all attitudes and beliefs are caused by more basic personality factors.

Adorno was greatly influenced by Freudian psycho–analytical personality theory and they made use of some of the basic tenets of Freudian Theory to account for personality types in Prejudice. Adorno etal strongly subscribed to the view that personality sources of prejudice are shaped primarily by the quality of parent control use during the formative period of personality organization and therefore the major cause of prejudice is the practices parents use to control the children.

Adorno and his colleagues studied the personality approach to the prejudice by the means off written self-report tests, clinical interviews and projective techniques. The main tests used were –

  1. Anti – Semitism (A-S) Scale
  2. The Ethnocentrism (E) Scale
  3. The Political and Economic Conservatism (PEC) Scale
  4. Implicit Anti – Democratic Trends (F) Scale

The first two scales are direct measurement of prejudice. E scale measures attitudes towards out groups and A – S scale measures attitude towards Jews.

Authoritarian Traits : Theodore Adorno
Authoritarian Traits : Theodore Adorno

Adorno et al found that the highly prejudiced subjects tended to deny their personal conflicts, especially those which involved sex, while prejudiced subjects were willing to face their problems openly. Besides repressing conflicts the prejudiced subject externalised their personality conflicts more than their non-prejudiced counter parts. That is they displaced their hostility more often and projected their tabooed impulses frequently. Interpersonal relationships for those high in prejudice were based on power and status while unprejudiced people stressed on personal qualities.

A high degree of prejudice was also accompanied by rigidity in thinking and intolerance for ambiguity. In short prejudiced person had –

  1. Tendencies towards fascistic political beliefs.
  2. A variety of anti-democratic attitudes.
  3. Ethnocentric orientation.
  4. Preference for auto critic style of functioning.
  5. Tendency to conform rather readily.
  6. Tendency for submission to the authority and blind obedience to it.
  7. Personal rigidity.
  8. Intolerance for ambiguity in a variety of forms.

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Adorno etal also found that prejudiced subjects tend to report relatively harsh and more threatening type of home discipline. They also found that prejudiced subjects base inter-relationships on clearly defined roles of dominance and submission in contradiction to equalitarian policies.

Subsequent research has supported some aspects of Authoritarian Personality. Singh for instance found that authoritarian CRP was associated with high prejudice in Hindu, Muslim and Christian students. Brunswik found that authoritarian children were concerned with status and favour employment of harsh disciplinary practices.

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