The Authoritarian

by F.

Small Gray Matters has a good post summarizing some work on the relationship between authoritarian personalities and the Big 5 (or 5-Factor) personality model.

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Here’s a McNugget of the whole post (the formatting of which I’ve changed slightly for readability purposes):

Across studies, 4 of the 5 dimensions appear to be reliably correlated with authoritarian/conservative tendencies: openness (negative correlation), conscientiousness (positive correlation), extraversion (positive correlation), and agreeableness (positive correlation).

That’s to say, highly authoritarian individuals tend to be somewhat more conscientious and extraverted than non-authoritarian individuals, and somewhat less open-minded and agreeable. Note that this pattern of correlations makes it apparent that authoritarianism isn’t always a bad trait. Extraversion and conscientiousness are generally considered positive traits, and the fact that authoritarian individuals are likely to be more assertive and conscientious attests to the decisiveness and confidence with which authoritarians are capable of acting.

On the other hand, the correlations with the other two traits reflect the down-side of that decisiveness and moral certitude: a failure to consider alternatives and contemplate speculative ideas (the dimension of openness is sometimes described as intellectual curiosity), and a relative disregard for people’s feelings. So the Big 5 model provides a potentially useful framework for understanding lower-order personality traits that give rise to a broad range of political and social attitudes.

That said, the correlations between the Big 5 dimensions and authoritarianism scales are typically small to moderate (with the largest effect holding for Openness, typically on the order of around .25 – .3.) So it’s certainly possible to come across highly agreeable, intellectually curious authoritarians–it just doesn’t happen that often

For more than a McNugget’s worth (say, a McChicken’s worth), see the original post.

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