Similarities and variations in Adorno et al. (1950) and Allum (2011)'s empirical findings on personality styles

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Psychology ・Harvard ・4 Sources

Personality is a collection of characteristics and features that affect the steady, conscious, and unconscious actions of a person over a considerable amount of time. These characteristics can be quantified empirically in the psychological study by supplementary research, questioning, and questionnaire issuance. Authoritarianism, which is marked by rigid loyalty to authority and animosity towards those who differ from themselves, is among the leading personality characteristics. Psychological researchers, including Adorno and colleagues in 1950 and Allum in 2011, have drawn considerable interest in this personality trait. These researchers investigated the existence of authoritarianism and its effect on prejudice as well as its influence over astrological ideology respectively. The origin and factors influencing the development of this trait are also investigated in the report by Adorno and his colleagues.

The two works by Adorno et al. (1950) and Allum (2011) adds voice into the extensive research on personality types through the interrogation of the relationship between authoritarianism, social prejudice, and astrological ideology. As such, they present some differences and similarities in their content, conduct, results and conclusions. To start with, whereas the Adorno’s research was aimed at investigating the prevalence of extremist authoritarian ideals and their effect on political and socio-economic prejudice, the Allum’s (2011) study was an inquiry into the impact of authoritarianism on astrological beliefs. The Adorno and colleagues were inspired by the mass massacre in Germany during the world war two by Hitler and his Nazi regime and as such was characterized by an inquiry into ethnocentrism, anti-semitism, fascism, and conservatism among others. It also explored the origin and effect of authoritarianism on these study facets. On the other hand, the Allum’s inquiry (2011) delved into the belief in pseudo-science and its relationship to literacy and authoritarianism. The two studies were thus premised on different hypotheses although they both served to expound on the topic of personality traits and their effects on individuals and society.

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Additionally, the two studies were carried out in different settings using diverse methods and different sample sizes. The report of Adorno and colleagues was carried out in the USA whereas the Allum’s research (2011) was carried out in Europe (Brace and Byford 2012, p.12). The sample size in issuing questionnaires was much larger in the Allum’s case consisting of 30,000 correspondents and covering up to twenty-five countries of the European Union including secondary research from the USA and Europe. In the Adorno et al. research (1950), there were a mere 2000 correspondence sample size and a much smaller interviewed correspondence of 150 participants (Brace and Byford 2012, p.31). Notably, Adorno and his colleagues conducted interviews in their work as opposed to Allum who conducted secondary research and administered questionnaires.

However, the two studies not only investigated the cause and effect of a similar trait but also employed similar research methods and used standard scales in the questionnaires to conduct a quantitative research in their respective topics. They both investigated the authoritarian personality trait and its influence on social conduct, prejudice, and belief in pseudo-science. The frequent reference of Adorno and his colleagues’ work in the Allum report is a testament to the similarity of the studies in their conduct and objectives.

According to Adorno et al. (1950), the research about authoritarian personality, is evaluated through attitude scales and in-depth interviews (Brace and Byford 2012, p.69-70). The responses to questions therein are evaluated to explain a greater construct on the presence and level of authoritarianism. Additionally, in the quest to investigate the origin of authoritarianism, interviews were used. In their findings, a relationship between strict parenting and the development of authoritarian personalities was established. In line with the psychoanalytic theory, strict family environments were seen to influence the development of authoritarianism where harsh discipline on children made them project hate towards different people in their adult lives.

Notably, a significant percentage of the sampled population was observed to possess authoritarian tendencies. In this regard, this portion of the population is predisposed to right-wing ideologies and fascism which can potentially flourish if the political and social climate allows such ideologies. In this classic study, Adorno and his colleagues also observed that the tendency of an individual to embrace extremist and authoritarian traits was mainly attributable to childhood experiences and strict parenting.

On the other hand, according to Allum (2011), the belief in astrology can also be related to the existence of authoritarianism (McAvoy and Brace 2014, p.33). From the findings of Adorno et al. (1950) that individuals exhibiting authoritarian tendencies are likely to believe in pseudo-sciences and superstitions such as astrology, Allum developed his hypothesis and looked for their support. Numerous surveys conducted in the USA indicate that 25% of the population believed in astrology. He studied people’s commitment in reading their newspapers horoscopes across America and issued questionnaires extensively throughout the European Union countries to support his hypothesis.

In his findings, Allum concluded that scientific literacy was crucial in enabling individuals to distinguish between pseudo-scientific and scientific claims (McAvoy and Brace 2014, p.33). Additionally, individuals who exhibited extreme authoritarianism were found to be readily lured into believing in higher powers and as such are gullible to believe in astrology. In his third finding, Allum alludes to the possibility of widespread confusion about the meaning of astrology. In this regard, astronomy and astrology are easily confused in the absence of scientific literacy on cause and effect.

The two studies have contributed immensely to the current understanding of authoritarianism through the knowledge of its causes and effects. The similarities in the two types of research in addressing different issues have helped to understand concepts in fascism, conservatism, ethnocentrism, and belief in astrology. In this way, the two types of research shed light on the underlying issues that characterize the development and manifestation of personality types. The revelations further provoke debate on the quality of parenting and literacy and their effect on the development of authoritarian characteristics. The extensiveness and accrued findings developed from these investigations indicate far-reaching causes and effects of not only authoritarianism, but also other traits. In this regard, it is essential for further studies to be conducted on different characteristics to establish their causes, effects and possible manifestations.

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Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. and Sanford, R.N., 1950. The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Allum, N., 2011. What makes some people think astrology is scientific? Science Communication, 33(3), pp. 341-366.

Brace, N. and Byford, J. eds., 2012. Investigating Psychology: Key concepts, key studies, key approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McAvoy, J. and Brace, N., 2014. Investigating methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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