The authoritarian personality is a personality type characterized by a disposition to treat authority figures with unquestioning obedience and respect. Conceptually, the term authoritarian personality originated from the writings of Erich Fromm, and usually is applied to people who exhibit a strict and oppressive personality towards their subordinates.[1]

Historical origins

In his 1941 book Fear of Freedom, a psychological exploration of modern politics, Erich Fromm described authoritarianism as a defence mechanism.

In The Authoritarian Personality (1950), Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford proposed a personality type that involved the "potentially fascistic individual".[2] The historical background that influenced the theoretical development of the authoritarian personality included the rise of fascism in the 1930s, World War II (1939–1945), and The Holocaust, which indicated that the fascistic individual was psychologically susceptible to the ideology of antisemitism and to the emotional appeal of anti-democratic politics. Known as the Berkeley studies, the researches of Adorno and Frenkel-Brunswik, and of Levinson and Sanford concentrated upon prejudice, which they studied within psychoanalytic and psychosocial frameworks of Freudian and Frommian theories. The book was described as a landmark work in social science that generated significant criticism of certain methods and results[3] but also confirmation of many of the findings in independent studies.[4] Following its publication was an extensive debate on the merits of the work, with many of the themes of this debate persisting in authoritarianism research today.[5] The authoritarian person also presents a cynical and disdainful view of humanity, and a need to wield power and be tough, which arise from the anxieties produced by the perceived lapses of people who do not abide by the conventions and social norms of society (destructiveness and cynicism); a general tendency to focus upon people who violate the value system, and to act oppressively against them (authoritarian aggression); anti-intellectualism, a general opposition to the subjective and imaginative tendencies of the mind (anti-intraception); and an exaggerated concern with sexual promiscuity, especially when concerning women.[6] The f-scale fell into disrepute as being unreliable after about 10 years.[7] Other criticisms of the sociologic theory presented in The Authoritarian Personality are the validity of the psychoanalytic interpretation of personality and bias that authoritarianism exists only in the right wing of the political spectrum.[citation needed]

In human psychological development, the formation of the authoritarian personality occurs within the first years of a child's life, strongly influenced and shaped by the parents' personalities and the organizational structure of the child's family; thus, parent-child relations that are "hierarchical, authoritarian, [and] exploitative" can result in a child developing an authoritarian personality.[8] Authoritarian-personality characteristics are fostered by parents who have a psychological need for domination, and who harshly threaten their child to compel obedience to conventional behaviors. Moreover, such domineering parents also are preoccupied with social status, a concern they communicate by having the child follow rigid, external rules. In consequence of such domination, the child suffers emotionally from the suppression of his or her feelings of aggression and resentment towards the domineering parents, whom the child reverently idealizes, but does not criticize. Such personalities may also be related to studies in preschool children of personality and political views as reported by scientists in 2006 which concluded that some children described as being "somewhat dominating" were later found, as adults, to be "relatively liberal", and those described as "relatively over-controlled" were later found, as adults, to be "relatively conservative"; in the words of the researchers,[9]

Preschool children who 20 years later were relatively liberal were characterized as: developing close relationships, self-reliant, energetic, somewhat dominating, relatively under-controlled, and resilient. Preschool children subsequently relatively conservative at age 23 were described as: feeling easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and relatively over-controlled and vulnerable.

Links to gender inequality

According to a study by Brandt and Henry, there is a direct correlation between the rates of gender inequality and the levels of authoritarian ideas in the male and female populations. It was found that in countries with less gender equality where individualism was encouraged and men occupied the dominant societal roles, women were more likely to support traits such as obedience which would allow them to survive in an authoritarian environment and less likely to encourage ideas such as independence and imagination. In countries with higher levels of gender equality, men held less authoritarian views. It is theorized that this occurs due to the stigma attached to individuals who question the cultural norms set by the dominant individuals and establishments in an authoritarian society as a way to prevent the psychological stress caused by the active ostracizing of the stigmatized individuals.[10]

Modern models

C.G. Sibley and J. Duckitt reported that more recent research has produced two more effective scales of measurement for predicting prejudice and other characteristics associated with authoritative personalities. The first scale is called the Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and the second is called the social dominance orientation (SDO).[11]

Bob Altemeyer used the right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale, to identify, measure, and quantify the personality traits of authoritarian people.[12] The political personality type identified with the RWA scale indicates the existence of three psychological tendencies and attitudinal clusters characteristic of the authoritarian personality: (i) Submission to legitimate authorities; (ii) Aggression towards minority groups whom authorities identified as targets for sanctioned political violence; and (iii) Adherence to cultural values and political beliefs endorsed by the authorities.[13] As measured with the NEO-PI-R Openness scale, the research indicates a negative correlation (r = 0.57) between the personality trait of "openness to experience", of the Five Factor Model of the human personality.

The research of Jost, Glaser, Arie W. Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003) indicates that authoritarianism and right-wing authoritarianism are ideological constructs for social cognition, by which political conservatives view people who are the Other who is not the Self. That the authoritarian personality and the conservative personality share two, core traits: (i) resistance to change (social, political. economic), and (ii) justification for social inequality among the members of society. Conservatives have a psychological need to manage existential uncertainty and threats with situational motives (striving for dominance in social hierarchies) and with dispositional motives (self-esteem and the management of fear).

The research on ideology, politics, and racist prejudice, by John Duckitt and Chris Sibley, identified two types of authoritarian worldview: (i) that the social world is dangerous, which leads to right-wing authoritarianism; and (ii) that the world is a ruthlessly competitive jungle, which leads to social dominance orientation.[14] In a meta-analysis of the research, Sibley and Duckitt explained that the social-dominance orientation scale helps to measure the generalization of prejudice and other authoritarian attitudes that can exist within social groups. Although both the right-wing authoritarianism scale and the social-dominance orientation scale can accurately measure authoritarian personalities, the scales usually are not correlated.[11]


Western countries

In 2021, Morning Consult (an American data intelligence company) published the results of a survey measuring the levels of authoritarianism in adults in America and seven other Western countries. The study used Bob Altemeyer's right-wing authoritarianism scale, but they omitted the following two statements from Altemeyer's scale: (1) "The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protestors are usually just "loud mouths" showing off their ignorance"; and (2) "Women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married." Morning Consult's scale thus had just 20 items, with a score range of 20 to 180 points. Morning Consult found that 25.6% of American adults qualify as "high RWA" (scoring between 111 and 180 points), while 13.4% of American adults qualify as "low RWA" (scoring 20 to 63 points).[15]

Prevalence among adults in Western countries
2021 Morning Consult survey
Low RWA High RWA
US 13.4% 25.6%
UK 13.6% 10.4%
Germany 17.4% 6.7%
France 10.2% 10.7%
Spain 17.9% 9.2%
Italy 17.9% 12.9%
Australia 17.1% 12.9%
Canada 21.3% 13.4%

United States

In a 2009 book, Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler identified evangelical Christians as the most authoritarian of voting blocs in the United States. Furthermore, the former Confederate states (i.e. "the South") showed higher levels of authoritarianism than the rest. Rural populations tend to be more authoritarian than urban ones. The authoritarianism levels of these demographics were assessed with four items that appeared in the 2004 American National Election Studies survey:[7]

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: INDEPENDENCE or RESPECT FOR ELDERS
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: CURIOSITY or GOOD MANNERS
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: OBEDIENCE or SELF-RELIANCE
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: BEING CONSIDERATE or WELL BEHAVED
Average authoritarianism by relevant party coalition groups
Group Mean authoritarianism
(2004 data)[7]
Evangelical Protestant 0.709
Catholic 0.571
Mainline Protestant 0.530
Secular 0.481
Jewish 0.383
Church Attendance
Weekly or More 0.689
Less than Weekly 0.549
South[a] 0.657
Non-south 0.547
Population density
Rural 0.603
Small town 0.584
Suburb 0.524
Large City 0.502
Inner City 0.549
Less than High School 0.754
High School Degree 0.657
Some College 0.590
College Degree 0.505
Graduate Degree 0.373

See also


  1. ^ The states that constituted the now-defunct Confederacy.
  1. ^ Baars, J. & Scheepers, P. (1993). "Theoretical and Methodological Foundations of the Authoritarian Personality". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 29, pp. 345–353.
  2. ^ Adorno, T. W.; Frenkel-Brunswik, E.; Levinson, D.J.; Sanford, R. N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality. Harper & Brothers. ISBN 978-0-06-030150-7.
  3. ^ Shils, E. A. (1954) Authoritarianism: "Right and left." In R. Christie & M. Iahoda (Eds.), Studies in the scope and method of the "authoritarian personality." New York: Free Press of Glencoe. 1954. pp. 24-49.
  4. ^ Westie, Frank R.; Christie, Richard; Jahoda, Marie (1954). "Studies in the Scope and Method of "The Authoritarian Personality:" Continuities in Social Research". American Sociological Review. 19 (5): 610. doi:10.2307/2087803. ISSN 0003-1224. JSTOR 2087803.
  5. ^ Herzog, Benno (2021-06-04). "Authoritarianism as pathology of recognition: the sociological substance and actuality of the authoritarian personality". Humanities and Social Sciences Communications. 8 (1): 135. doi:10.1057/s41599-021-00819-5. hdl:10550/89222. ISSN 2662-9992. S2CID 257086593.
  6. ^ de Grazia, Alfred (December 1950). "The Authoritarian Personality. By T. W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, R. Nevitt Sanford. (New York: Harper & Brothers. 1950. Pp. xxxiii, 990. $7.50.)". American Political Science Review. 44 (4): 1005–1006. doi:10.2307/1951300. ISSN 0003-0554. JSTOR 1951300. S2CID 146317479.
  7. ^ a b c Hetherington; Weiler (2009). Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, p. 47-48, 59
  8. ^ Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality (1950) pp. 482–484.
  9. ^ Block, Jack; Block, Jeanne H. (October 2006). "Nursery school personality and political orientation two decades later" (PDF). Journal of Research in Personality. 40 (5): 734–749. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2005.09.005. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  10. ^ Brandt, Mark J.; Henry, P. J. (2012). "Gender Inequality and Gender Differences in Authoritarianism". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38 (10): 1301–15. doi:10.1177/0146167212449871. PMID 22733982. S2CID 14257738.
  11. ^ a b Sibley, Chris G.; Duckitt, John (2008-08-01). "Personality and Prejudice: A Meta-Analysis and Theoretical Review". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 12 (3): 248–279. doi:10.1177/1088868308319226. ISSN 1088-8683. PMID 18641385. S2CID 5156899.
  12. ^ Altemeyer, Bob (1998). "The Other 'Authoritarian Personality'", Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, pp. 30, 47–91.
  13. ^ McCrae and Costa (1997). Conceptions and Correlates of Openness to Experience. Handbook of Personality Psychology, R. Hogan, J. Johnson, S. Briggs, Eds). pp. 835–847.
  14. ^ Duckitt, John; Sibley, Chris G. (2009). "A Dual-Process Motivational Model of Ideology, Politics, and Prejudice". Psychological Inquiry. 20 (2–3): 98–109. doi:10.1080/10478400903028540. S2CID 143766574.
  15. ^ Rachel Vengalia; Laura Maxwell (28 June 2021). "How We Conducted Our International Study on Right-Wing Authoritarianism". Morning Consult. Retrieved 3 Jan 2022.