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Discussing the Authoritarian Personality as an Explanation for Obedience.

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Discuss the authoritarian personality as an explanation for obedience. (12 Marks)

The dispositional explanations for obedience are as follows, the authoritarian personality, in which a person is more likely to obey those in authority and dismiss of those who are considered inferior in a hierarchy. Like Milgram, Theodor Adorno wished to understand the anti-Semitism of the Holocaust and found that on the basis of their research, high levels of obedience were due to a psychological disorder, and therefor tried to find the causes of it in the personality of an individual.
Adorno et al. (1950) conducted a study to investigate the causes of the obedient personality in 2000 middle-class, white Americans and their unconscious attitudes. As such, they developed several scales in which to investigate this, including the F-Scale, used to measure the authoritarian personality. An example of an item from the F-Scale is, “Nobody ever learned anything important except through suffering.”. Consequently, Adorno found that those who scored higher on the scale tended to have authoritarian personalities identifying with those with authority and being generally contemptuous for people below them.
In an effort to identify the origin of the authoritarian personality, Adorno concluded that it was developed during childhood as a result of harsh parenting. This parenting involved strict disciplining, high standards, and expectations of absolute loyalty – even categorising with ‘conditional love’ where as the parents’ affection for their child was dependant on the child’s behaviour. He argued that this upbringing creates resentment and hostility in the child which cannot be otherwise expressed towards their parents and results in the type of behaviour within the authoritarian personality as these emotions are displaced onto those perceived to be weaker – scapegoating.

Milgram and Elms (1966) conducted interviews with a small sample of fully obedient participants from his original study, who also scored highly on the F-Scale, believing that there could be a link between obedience and the authoritarian personality. This supported Adorno as the participants displaying high levels of obedience also had the authoritarian personality, thus, a correlation could be established between the two variables.
However, this link is merely a correlation, therefore a cause and effect cannot be established so it is impossible to draw the conclusion that the authoritarian personality causes the obedience. In which case, a ‘third factor’ may be involved or the two variables may not even be directly linked.
Furthermore, Milgram and Elm had a rather small sample size meaning that any conclusions that they made cannot be generalised to the rest of the population; resulting in a lack of external validity. Moreover, it could also suggest that the conclusions may be inaccurate as they might not have enough data to properly analyse their findings.
In addition to this, the F-Scale itself lacks validity as it is argued that the methodology itself was slightly flawed, all the items were worded in the same direction. This meant that it is possible to get an authoritarian personality by just agreeing with every item, which some may have done to speed up the process. Therefore, the scale is affected by acquiescence bias.
In conclusion, based on the results of Adorno’s investigation and the criticisms it has received, I believe that the authoritarian personality isn’t that effective at explaining obedience as most of the results only discuss strong correlations but never truly reaching a point in which cause and effect could be established. As a result, the authoritarian personality cannot be used as a proper explanation and may not even be directly linked to obedience even considering Milgram and Elms research which again, merely stated correlations.…...

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