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Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) is a psychological personality variable or "ideological attitude'.

It is defined as the convergence of three attitudinal clusters in an individual:

1. Authoritarian submission—a high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.

2. Authoritarian aggression—a general aggressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities.

3. Conventionalism—a high degree of adherence to the social conventions that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities.

High scorers on the RWA scale tend to have a rigid, often fundamentally religious view of morality tending towards as homophobic and patriarchal beliefs. High RWA scorers tend to support authority figures, such as the government, taking action to censor certain social groups (often those who are viewed as physically or morally threatening).

History of the RWA Theory

The RWA construct was developed by Robert Altemeyer, drawing on Adorno's post-WWII research on the concept of an authoritarian personality--based on Freudian theory--which contained conservative, pro-fascist, prejudiced and ethnocentric beliefs. Taking an empirical approach based on statistical analysis and disregarding the theoretical construct, Altemeyer found that just three facets of this authoritarian personality were statistically significant and cross-correlated: conventionalism, authoritarian aggression and authoritarian submission. Conventionalism is the tendency to accept and obey social conventions and the rules of authority figures. Authoritarian aggression is characterised by an aggressive attitude towards individuals or groups disliked by authorities, and authoritarian submission is submission to authorities and authority figures.

Altemeyer developed the RWA scale to measure this cluster of beliefs, asking subjects to rate their agreement (or disagreement) with statements such as "Our country will be great if we honour the ways of our forefathers, do what the authorities tell us to do, and get rid of the ‘rotten apples’ who are ruining everything." This example contains all three facets of RWA:

  • "honor the ways of our forefathers", that is, conventionalism/traditional values
  • "do what the authorities tell us to do", authoritarian submission
  • "get rid of the ‘rotten apples’ or 'communist sympathizers' who are ruining everything" - authoritarian aggression


Right Wing Authoritarianism Scale (RWA).

Significant Correlations

Altemeyer discovered a wide range of correlations over the years, which can be organized into four general categories.

1: Faulty reasoning -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Make many incorrect inferences from evidence.
  • Hold contradictory ideas leading them to ‘speak out of both sides of their mouths.’
  • Uncritically accept that many problems are ‘our most serious problem.’
  • Uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs.
  • Uncritically trust people who tell them what they want to hear.
  • Use many double standards in their thinking and judgements.

2: Hostility Toward Outgroups -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Punish severely ‘common’ criminals in a role-playing situation.
  • Admit they get personal pleasure from punishing such people.
  • Be prejudiced against many racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and linguistic minorities.
  • Be hostile toward homosexuals.
  • Support ‘gay-bashing.’
  • Volunteer to help the government persecute almost anyone.
  • Be mean-spirited toward those who have made mistakes and suffered.

3: Profound Character Flaws -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Be dogmatic.
  • Be zealots.
  • Be hypocrites.
  • Be bullies when they have power over others.
  • Help cause and inflame intergroup conflict.
  • Seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive in situations requiring cooperation.

4: Blindness To One’s Own Failings -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Believe they have no personal failings.
  • Avoid learning about their personal failings.
  • Be highly self-righteous.
  • Use religion to erase guilt over their acts and to maintain their self-righteousness.

RWA is also correlated with political conservatism—not so much at the level of ordinary voters, but with increasing strength as one moves from voters to activists to office holders, and then from lower to higher-level officeholders.

Early Development of RWA

Duckitt has suggested a model of attitude development for RWA in which punitive socialisation causes social conformity. This leads to a view of the world as a dangerous, dog-eats-dog place. This fits with RWA beliefs, which influence ingroup and outgroup attitudes.

Connection with Social Dominance Orientation

RWA has been found to correlate moderately with Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). Together they are strong predictors of a variety of prejudiced beliefs such as sexism, racism and anti-homosexual attitudes. The two measures can be thought of as two sides of the same coin: RWA provides the prejudiced, religious submissive followers, and SDO provides the manipulative, prejudiced, power-seeking leaders. Not everyone agrees if that is good or bad.

See also

Social Dominance Orientation

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