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Example Answer for Question 6 Paper 1: A Level Psychology, June 2017 (AQA)


Last updated 25 Apr 2018

Section A – Social: Q6 [8 Marks

Adorno believed that the foundations for an authoritarian personality were laid in early childhood as a result of harsh and strict parenting, which made the child feel that the love of their parents was conditional and dependent upon how they behaved. Adorno et al. (1950) conducted a study using over 2000 middle-class, Caucasian Americans using a number of questionnaires including one called the F-scale, which measures fascist tendencies, which is thought to be at the core of the authoritarian personality. Adorno found that Individuals who scored highly on the F-scale identified with ‘strong’ people and showed disrespect towards the ‘weak’. Also, those high on the F-scale were status-conscious, showing excessive respect to those in higher power. Adorno concluded that individuals with an authoritarian personality were more obedient to authority figures and showed an extreme submissiveness and respect. They are also uncomfortable with uncertainty, with everything being seen as either right or wrong with ‘no grey areas’ in-between, demonstrating an inflexible attitude. They, therefore, believe that society requires strong leadership to enforce rigid, traditional values.

There is research support for the authoritarian personality as an explanation for obedience. Milgram and Elms (1966) conducted post-experimental interviews with participants who were fully obedient in Milgram’s original study, to see if there was a link between high levels of obedience and an authoritarian personality. It was found that the obedient participants scored higher on the F-scale in comparison to the disobedient participants. Furthermore, the obedient participants were less close to their fathers during childhood and admired the experimenter in Milgram’s study, which was quite the opposite for disobedient participants. However, it must be noted that the findings of Milgram and Elm’s research are correlational and therefore psychologists are unable to establish whether or not authoritarian personality traits cause obedience. Therefore, while it was concluded that the obedient participants in Milgram’s original research displayed more characteristics of the authoritarian personality these results should be treated with caution as they are correlational in nature and we are unable to conclude whether authoritarian personality causes people to obey; we only know that the two factors are linked.  

Furthermore, there may be individual differences that contribute to the development of the authoritarian personality. Research by Middendorp and Meleon (1990) has found that less-educated people are more likely than well-educated people to display authoritarian personality characteristics. If these claims are correct, then it is possible to conclude that it is not authoritarian personality characteristics alone that lead to obedience, but also levels of education, which therefore undermines the authoritarian personality explanation for obedience as other factors may also play an important role.

[~400 words]

Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.

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