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Authoritarian Personality

A personality pattern described in detail in the 1950 book of the same name that grew out of a study of anti-Semitism.

Adolf Hitler and his troops. Authoritarian personality types project their own weaknesses onto groups they denigrate as inferior. (Reproduced with permission.)

Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) led a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, to determine whether there was a correlation between anti-Semitism and certain personality traits. While the original goal had been the identification of an "anti-Semitic" personality, the scope was widened, first from anti-Semitic to "Fascist" then to "authoritarian," when the study found that people prejudiced against one ethnic or racial group were likely to be prejudiced against others as well.

A major determining factor in the formation of the authoritarian personality was found to be a pattern of strict and rigid parenting, in which obedience is instilled through physical punishment and harsh verbal discipline. Little parental praise or affection is shown, independence is discouraged, and the child's behavior is expected to meet a set standard. Significantly, such parents instill in children not only obedience to themselves but also a deeply entrenched sense of social hierarchy which entails obedience to all persons of higher status. When they reach adulthood, people with this personality structure discharge the hostility accumulated by their harsh upbringing against those whom they perceive to be of lower status by forming negative stereotypes of them and discriminating against or overtly persecuting them. It is also thought that they may be projecting their own weaknesses and fears onto the groups they denigrate as inferior. Other traits associated with this personality type include dependence on authority and rigid rules, conformity to group values, admiration of powerful figures, compulsiveness, concreteness, and intolerance of ambiguity.

Further Reading

Eiser, J. Richard Social Psychology: Attitudes, Cognition, and Social Behaviour. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Stone, William F., Gerda Lederer, and Richard Christie, eds. Strength and Weakness: the Authoritarian Personality Today. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1993.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage