Pang, J., University of Michigan, USA
Authoritarianism has proven to be a robust construct for understanding people's behaviors and opinions on a variety of significant contemporary issues, including AIDS, race relations, and gender roles. Specifically, past research has documented that authoritarianism is positively correlated with conservative ideology and/or the political orthodoxy. It may be useful to study how the authoritarian personality might operate on an individual level to create such attitudes. In particular, one might ask-how do authoritarians understand the political world around them? The present study investigates the amount of general political knowledge that authoritarians possess, as well as the level of complexity with which they understand the political world. Three hundred and seventy-seven undergraduate students from four different samples completed Altemeyer's (1988) Right Wing Authoritarianism Scale as well as a variety of open-ended questions about social and political issues. Students from two of the samples completed a political knowledge quiz. Additionally, students from two of the samples also answered questions pertaining to the U.S. 2000 elections. Authoritarianism was negatively related to amount of general political knowledge as well as to the level of cognitive complexity in political discourse. Authoritarianism was also related to a certain pattern of responding and thinking about the political world. Essays about social and political issues tended to be less well elaborated and contained nativistic themes. The implication of these findings is discussed, particularly for the areas of public intervention and educational strategies.