The Authoritarian Personality in Brazil

Why the interest in something called the 'authoritarian personality'?  The starting point of the investigations is really about prejudice, whether it is racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia and all the other variants.  One of the lines of inquiry on prejudice is predicated on the authoritarian personality.  In the monograph The Authoritarian Personality, Theodor W. Adorno and his collaborators defined the authoritarian person as someone who thinks in a rigid manner, obeys authority without questioning, sees the world in simple black-and-black terms and adheres to strict social rules and hierarchies.  It is argued that such authoritarian persons are much more likely to hold prejudices of all kinds.

The Authoritarian Personality contains a psychological instrument known as the F Scale (F for fascism).  It is based upon the responses to the following thirty statements:

  1. Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.
  2. A person who has bad manners, habits, and breeding can hardly expect to get along with decent people.
  3. If people would talk less and work more, everybody would be better off.
  4. The business man and the manufacturer are much more important to society than the artist and the professor.
  5. Science has its place, but there are many important things that can never be understood by the human mind.
  6. Every person should have complete faith in some supernatural power whose decisions he obeys without question.
  7. Young people sometimes get rebellious ideas, but as they grow up they ought to get over them and settle down.
  8. What this country needs most, more than laws and political programs, is a few courageous, tireless, devoted leaders in whom the people can put their faith.
  9. No sane, normal, decent person could ever think of hurting a close friend or relative.
  10. Nobody ever learned anything really important except through suffering.
  11. What the youth needs most is strict discipline, rugged determination, and the will to work and fight for family and country.
  12. An insult to our honor should always be punished.
  13. Sex crimes, such as rape and attacks on children, deserve more than mere imprisonment; such criminals ought to be publicly whipped, or worse.
  14. There is hardly anything lower than a person who does not feel a great love, gratitude, and respect for his parents.
  15. Most of our social problems would be solved if we could somehow get rid of the immoral, crooked, and feebleminded people.
  16. Homosexuals are hardly better than criminals and ought to be severely punished.
  17. When a person has a problem or worry, it is best for him not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things.
  18. Nowadays more and more people are prying into matters that should remain personal and private.
  19. Some people are born with an urge to jump from high places.
  20. People can be divided into two distinct classes: the weak and the strong.
  21. Some day it will probably be shown that astrology can explain a lot of things.
  22. Wars and social troubles may someday be ended by an earthquake or flood that will destroy the whole world.
  23. No weakness or difficulty can hold us back if we have enough will power.
  24. It is best to use some prewar authorities in Germany to keep order and prevent chaos.
  25. Most people don't realize how much our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places.
  26. Human nature being what it is, there will always be war and conflict.
  27. Familiarity breeds contempt.
  28. Nowadays when so many different kinds of people move around and mix together so much, a person has to protect himself especially carefully against catching an infection or disease from them.
  29. The wild sex life of the old Greeks and Romans was tame compared to some of the goings-on in this country, even in places where people might least expect it.
  30. The true American way of life is disappearing so fast that force may be necessary to preserve it.

If you are interested in how well you do on the F Scale, you can take this online test which will compute your score immediately.

When there are as many as thirty questions, then one can assume that they are not all about the same psychological dimension.  Instead, the following table shows that the F Scale is intended to cover a number of different dimensions for the authoritarian personality.

Psychological Dimensions Questions measuring variable
Conventionalism: Rigid adherence to conventional, middle-class values. 1, 2, 3, 4
Authoritarian Submission: Submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup. 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Authoritarian Aggression: Tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values. 2, 3, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16
Anti-intraception: Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded. 3, 4, 17, 18
Superstition and Stereotypy: The belief in mystical determinants of the individual's fate; the disposition to think in rigid categories. 5, 6, 19, 20, 21, 22
Power and "Toughness": Preoccupation with the dominance-submission, strong-weak, leader-follower dimension; identification with power figures; overemphasis upon the conventionalized attributes of the ego; exaggerated assertion of strength and toughness. 8, 11, 12, 20, 23, 24, 25, 30
Destructiveness and Cynicism: Generalized hostility, vilification of the enemy. 26, 27
Projectivity: The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses. 18, 22, 25, 28, 29
Sex: Exaggerated concern with sexual "goings-on." 13, 16, 29

The title of this article is "The Authoritarian Personality in Brazil."  Ideally, it would have been nice to have a valid sample of Brazilians who are given the F Scale.  Unfortunately, we don't have that sort of data here.  Instead, we will use a list of questions that appear in the 2004 TGI Brasil study.  Within this study, there were 11,101 persons between the ages of 20 to 64 years old who were shown a list of attitudinal statements:

  1. It is important that my family thinks I am doing well.
  2. It is more important to do your duty than to live for your own enjoyment
  3. I worry a lot about myself.
  4. I find that I am easily swayed by other people's views.
  5. Job security is more important to me than the money.
  6. I worry about violence and crime.
  7. A woman's place is in the home.
  8. I prefer to work as part of a team than work alone.
  9. It is important to me to feel respected by my peers.
  10. I like to have a circle of close friends who support me in hard times.
  11. I like to have control over people and resources.
  12. I don't think we should strive for equality for all.
  13. It is important to have a lasting relationship with one partner.
  14. It is easy for me to say no to my kids.
  15. I don't want responsibility; I'd rather be told what to do.
  16. I don't like to stand out in a crowd.
  17. Real men don't cry.

Now, this is just a list of statements and no further analysis has been done with respect to its correlation with fascism or related aspects.  However, this seems intuitively to be related with the items in the F Scale.  We will simply construct a score by counting the number of times that a person 'completely agrees' with these items.  Again, we repeat that this is an intuitive measure that is not backed up by any other analysis with respect to validity, reliability, factor analytical extraction, etc.

Across the respondents in the 2004 TGI Brasil study, the mean of this so-called 'authoritarian' score is 5.7.  The chart below shows the mean scores separately by socio-economic level, age/sex, education and occupation.

(Source: 2004 TGI Brasil)

The acronyms TGI stands for Target Group Index, which refers to a family of marketing research studies around the world.  So what is the interest of marketers in matters of psychological personality?  The most basic approach to market segmentation is through demographic classification (e.g. age, sex, income, education, etc).  This will explain who is purchasing the products.  A better approach is to add values, attitudes and lifestyle variables so that the resulting psycho-demographic variables can explain why the consumers are buying the product.  

Beyond more precise targeting, this also provides insight as to the types of messages that will motivate purchasing.  As an example, within this TGI Brasil study, the mean 'authoritarian' score among computer users is 5.2, which is significantly lower than average.  Indeed, this would suggest that references to conventionalism and authoritarian suggestions will be less effective here.  As for example on the other end of the spectrum, the users of prescription medicines for conditions such as arthritis, cancer and diabetes have significant higher mean 'authoritarian' scores because they are taking the medicine precisely on the orders of authority figures.

In the above description, we have treated the marketing problem that involves the purchase of products and services.  But are we not forgetting that one of the heaviest advertising categories in media of all forms is political advertising?  Given the origin of the F Scale as a project to understand the basis of fascism, it should be quite clear that the authoritarian personality traits are very relevant in this application.  In fact, the psychological dimensions of the F Scale may explain how issues are formed during many of the recent political campaigns. 

(posted by Roland Soong, 12/03/2004)

(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)