Box 8-1:Through a Glass, Darwinian

The Authoritarian Personality: The Quintessential Xenophobic, Hierarchically Motivated Primate

In a number of non-human primate societies, many individuals (particularly males) are preoccupied with concerns related to dominance status, group affiliation and group integrity. Anything that is perceived as a threat to their place in the group is a powerful source of fear and trepidation. Extreme xenophobia (fear of the strange) is manifested when other groups of conspecifics are encountered. Studies of proto-cultural transmission in Japanese macaques show that the females and their young acquire new innovations but hierarchically enmeshed adult males are virtually closed to new experience. This xenophobic, closed-minded, control-driven individual, ready to submit to dominants and equally ready to oppress subordinates certainly continues to exist in our species as well.

Altemeyer (1988) conceptualized the authoritarian as a person highly dependent upon a strong group, demanding high ideological conformity. The Right Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA) was developed by Altemeyer (1988) to measure the three reliable facets of authoritarianism: conventionalism, i.e., rigid conformity to group norms, submission to higher status individuals, and aggression toward out-groups and unconventional group members. The emergence of an authoritarian personality appears to be unrelated to intellectual ability or socioeconomic status. Altemeyer believed this personality type was the product of a development history of harsh parental discipline acquired through social learning. However, a study of 39 pairs of monozygotic (identical) and 38 pairs of dizygotic (fraternal) adult twins reared apart and 423 pairs of monzygotic and 434 pairs of dizygotic adult twins reared together indicates that genetic factors account for at least 50% of the phenotypic variance and unshared environment for 35% (McCourt, Bouchard, Lykken, Tellegen, & Keyes, 1999). The hypothesis that authoritarianism derives from aspects of the rearing environment was not supported by this study. Nor was the RWA trait related to general cognitive ability. It appears to be primarily influenced by genetic factors as well as by unique environmental factors. The superficial perspective, that the family environment is an important influence is due to its confounding with genetic relationships.

Eigenberger (1998) hypothesized that authoritarian behavior results from fears associated with social exclusion and group dissolution, which were genuine threats to survival during much of our evolutionary past. To test this hypothesis 522 participants were give the Right-Wing Authoritarian Scale (RWA) and the Fear Perception Index. It was found that individuals with higher scores on the RWA also had greater fears associated with social acceptability and the perceived deviant behavior of others. A fear of out-groups perceived as powerful was clearly indicated. For example, the fear item with the highest correlation with the RWA was “People associated with a cult”. Certainly, the components of authoritarianism–conformity, submission and aggression–had an important function in our remote evolutionary past, i.e., adapting to the social hierarchy and defending the integrity of the group. However, the anti-democratic ideology and personally intolerant views of authoritarians are highly problematic in a modern, global society.