AUTHORITARIANISM AS A CAUSE OF HEART DISEASE: REPLY TO BYRNE, REINHART & HEAVEN
University of N.S.W., Australia
Byrne, Reinhart & Heaven (1989) report a study which replicates many findings of the present author. They interpret their findings, however, to create the impression that they somehow undermine a theory advanced by the present author. Reasons for this are explored and important omissions are noted.
Byrne, Reinhart & Heaven (1989) have recently in this journal briefly surveyed my articles on the psychological precursors of coronary heart disease (CHD) with particular reference to my claim that the authoritarian personality (as I define it) is a major precursor of CHD. They sound a rather skeptical note about my (admittedly unusual) claim. As I have written a very large number of papers on authoritarianism, they could perhaps be forgiven the impression that I have something of a "bee in my bonnet" about the subject and tend to see authoritarianism "under every bed", as it were. To their credit, however, they do not confine themselves to skepticism but report a large new empirical study that replicates very well a large number of relationships that I have previously reported.
Their interpretation of their results is, however, a curious one. Instead of seeing their results as excellent confirmation for my various contentions, they somehow seem to think that they have shown something new or cast my theories into doubt. This seems to be traceable to a rather hasty reading of my work. They purport to test my theory but what they test is in fact their own transmogrified version of my theory. As an admittedly rather trivial instance of this, I have long argued (e.g. Ray, 1976, 1983 & 1984a) that the different senses of the term "authoritarian" must be distinguished and that authoritarianism of attitude, behaviour and personality may not necessarily be correlated or have similar correlates. These authors make much the same point but seem to think there is some originality in their doing so.
More importantly, however, where I claim a relationship between the authoritarian personality and CHD, what they test (in ostensibly testing my theories) is the relationship between authoritarianism of various types and the well-known A-B personality construct of Jenkins, Zyzanski & Rosenman (1979). It is almost as if they equate this dubious construct with proneness to CHD.
It is also curious that they seem to see their finding that authoritarian attitudes (as distinct from authoritarian personalities) do not predict CHD as somehow limiting my theory. They cite my paper (Ray, 1976) in which I claim that authoritarian attitudes are unrelated to the authoritarian personality but show remarkably little sign of having read it. Their findings, incidentally, confirm the said lack of
They report a relationship between various measures of authoritarian personality and the A-B construct of generally around .4, which is very much what I had previously reported (Ray, 1984b) and note that, although this is suggestive, it still leaves most of the variance in A-B unexplained. They conclude that authoritarianism is not what underlies the A-B construct. Since I have never claimed that it did (I claimed that authoritarianism in the sense of "aggressive dominance" was the major psychological predictor of CHD), the importance of this
conclusion rather escapes me.
Most of what has been said so far, however, concerns really rather minor matters by comparison with their major omission: They failed to cite my paper (Ray, 1986) in which I show that it is precisely the overlap between A-B and the authoritarian personality (in the sense of aggressive dominance) that predicts CHD and that A-B must therefore hence be seen as only an early approximation to what predicts CHD. They omit to say that I have given precise empirical confirmation to my theory. They may not have succeeded in testing my theory but I have and what I found was that the relationship between CHD and A-B vanishes when controls for authoritarianism are applied. It is the "authoritarian" part of A-B which does the predicting of CHD. They could have discovered the same thing for themselves by doing a simple partial correlation from the matrix provided in Ray (1984b) but they did not.
It seems important that readers be alerted to the peculiarities of this paper.
Byrne, D.G., Reinhart, M.I. & Heaven, P.C.L. (1989) Type A behaviour and the authoritarian personality. British J. Medical Psychology 62, 163-172.
Jenkins, C.D., Zyzanski, S.J. & Rosenman, R.H. (1979) Jenkins Activity Survey manual N.Y.: Psychological Corp.
Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.
Ray, J.J. (1984) Alternatives to the F scale in the measurement of authoritarianism: A catalog. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 105-119.
Ray, J.J. (1984) Authoritarianism, A-B personality and coronary heart disease: A correction. British Journal of Medical Psychology 57, 386.
Ray, J.J. (1986) Alternatives to the A-B personality concept in predicting coronary heart disease. Personality Study & Group Behaviour 6(2), 1-8.