#127 – The Authoritarian Personality with Dr. Robert Altemeyer



Robert Altemyer, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba and is the world’s leading authority on The Authoritarian Personality, a topic he has researched and written on extensively. In fact, he has made a book on this topic available for free . He describes himself as follows: “Who am I? I’m a nearly retired psychology professor in Canada who has spent most of his life studying authoritarianism. I got into this field by being lazy. When I took the exams for getting a Ph.D. at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1965, I failed a question about a famous early effort to understand the authoritarian personality. I had to write a paper to prove I could learn at least something about this research, which had gotten itself into a huge hairy mess by then. However, I got caught up in the tangle too. Thus I didn’t start studying authoritarianism because I am a left-winger (I think I’m a moderate on most issues) or because I secretly hated my father. I got into it because it presented a long series of puzzles to be solved, and I love a good mystery.”

(Psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.)



  1. Rafal
    Posted December 29, 2007 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    First of all thanks to Prof. Altemeyer for sharing his book. I am sure the subject is interesting for all the Americans, with the political situation where truth is being modeled to fit the authorities needs. It is also quite similar here in Poland 🙂 For me though this book is also interesting as a major help of understanding some crutial dynamics in the workplace. I am very much looking forward to read it just after the new year has came to us. Very best 2008 to Dr.Dave, all Guests and all the listeners.

  2. Posted December 30, 2007 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Just to let you know: I have also started reading the book.
    Kudos to dr. Bob.
    In spite of the fact that this interview went on to focus heavily on the US situation, I am sure i am not the only one from the international audience to see plenty application back home


  3. Thea
    Posted January 4, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I am also reading the book, and I find it dreadfully scary! Especially the parts about how these RWAs are virtually impervious to influences that could change their minds, such as FACTS! It makes me think of something that Jung said when talking about therapy and confronting a person’s defenses. He said something to the effect that the therapist should not seek to directly attack or tear down these defenses, because they are there for a reason. For a long time I have thought that underlying all forms of fanaticism is fear, and RWAs have this mentality rooted in fear. So, if one cannot go around directly confronting such people, how do we reach them? I ask this because a couple of people very dear to me have such mentalities – I almost sent them the test and the book! But I must say I do not because the derisive tone of the book would be counterproductive for such a purpose .

  4. valerie
    Posted January 6, 2008 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    After listening to the authoritarian personality podcast, I feel that I have some attributes of the authoritarian follower personality. I feel that these aspects of my personality have lessened as I have matured( I’m 27) and been educated (bachelors degree). Curiously, I also recognized that my husband seems to have complimentary attributes. Perhaps I recognized these deficencies in myself and was attracted to him because of this.

    I was wondering if there are any positives associated with being an authoritative follower. I am an avid marathon runner, and perhaps the ability to follow is good in certain venues.

    I really don’t think that I am a close minded or bad person. I am not in an abusive relationship or a member of a cult, however I recognize that my personality tends towards the authoritative follower.

    Any thoughts on this would be helpful. also, I am going to read the book. It will probably give me some clarity.

  5. Posted January 6, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Permalink


    I think it takes a certain amount of courage and openness to see and admit your Authoritarian Follower tendencies. So I see that as very positive. I’m glad you plan to read the book. That may temper your self-evaluation or it may lead you to further self-questioning and growth if you become convinced that some change is needed. The world needs followers. We can’t all lead all the time or there would be chaos. I think it is more an issue of not becoming a blind follower of authority.


  6. valerie
    Posted January 7, 2008 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I read the first chapter of the book, and took the RWA test (97). I now believe that I am fairly conservative, but not aggressive, so I am not a true RWA.

    I read all of the information on the test and how it has been developed over time, but I found myself cringing at a lot of the questions. I fell that if they had been posed differently my score would be a lot lower. My responses don’t accurately reflect my views.

    I am not going to take my score too seriously and I look forward to finishing the book.

    thanks for the input Dr. Dave!

  7. Katie
    Posted February 1, 2008 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I just listened to the podcast this morning while I was driving to work. I come from the interesting perspective of being a well-educated, open-minded evangelical Christian. I absolutely do see some faults with some of the more outspoken members of “my” community of believers. I did not appreciate Dr. Altemeyer’s own close-mindedness in referring to all “right-wingers,” “fundamentalists,” and “Evangelicals” as RWAs.

  8. Posted May 31, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Just listened to this podcast again, I believe this is an important interview. You gotta interview this guy again. I downloaded his book and also printed a copy for my boss to read, I hope he gets as much out of the book as I did.

  9. mat
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a great website and for helping make Dr. Altemeyer’s work more available!

    Re: any perceived “close-mindedness”, Dr. Altemeyer makes it clear that he is not refering to “Right-Wingers” in the political sense, so much as using it to describe the type of folks who happen to score very high on all the RWA attributes (which “fundamentalists” and “Evangelicals” do as well). Unlike “personal opinions”, it’s clear that he seems to be pretty meticulously “data-driven” when making these observations. That these observations may be uncomfortable for some is another matter. Of course as he also notes, RWA’s are particularly resistant to contrary facts or data anyway.

  10. JackJack
    Posted March 6, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Interesting book, but I became bored about 1/4 of the way when I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know/believe. I don’t enjoy reading things which simply support my own beliefs. What’s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge?
    Authoritarians—especially the ones like Colonel Flagg—are very spooky indeed. But are we not all potential authoritarians? Although I myself scored extremely low on the RWA scale, I felt the lure of authoritarianism immediately after 9/11. Although I opposed the Iraq war because it seemed illogical and the evidence unconvincing, I might very well have supported it had it been more cleverly presented by people who didn’t seem like morons (W) and blood-crazed war-mongers (Cheney and his minions).

  11. jp
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    JAckJack, just wondering [scientifically] whether you accepted the Afghan ‘war’ since it was presented more cleverly by O and his minions than was the Iraq ‘war’.

    while you may already know/believe much of this, Dr. A.’s value was to do the work of a researcher, subject to peer review, to demonstrate that what you think you know in fact has some validity.

  12. Sarita
    Posted May 10, 2016 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I find Bob’ Altermeyer’s work brilliant and very useful to articulate the psychologically authoritarian behaviours we see in day to day life at home or work. It was a relief for me seeing it documented so beautifully, which I had only speculated about in a lay manner until then. Documented my thoughts on how relieving I found the book to be:

    While I find the trait of authoritarian submission/leadership extremely repulsive, I do joke around that my supposed “relief” on chancing upon the book, is typical of an authoritarian “follower” 😉 LoL.

    I wish there were more interviews on the topic. And yes, political and nationalist authoritarianism while similar in theory, must be considered different from an individual’s psychological orientation towards “authoritarianism”.

    I hope to write a few more articles on my thoughts on this subject – cannot deny that it is so interesting, albeit I wonder why so many in my social circle cannot “stand” a healthy debate on the topic, and not surprisingly this lot does lean towards authoritarian behaviours!

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