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Stigmatization as an Explanation for the Authoritarianism of the Uneducated

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Principal Investigator(s):

Mark Brandt
Tilburg University
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Sample size: 1240
Field period: 4/08/2012-07/24/2012



The robust negative relationship between education and authoritarianism has been explained largely as a function of the deficiencies of the uneducated. The present experiment, based on the theory of stigma compensation (Brandt & Henry, 2012a; Henry, 2009, 2011a), adds to these explanations a factor that is external to the uneducated, that of the devaluing of the uneducated in their environment. The results of this study suggest that the negative relationship between education and authoritarian values is significantly weakened when participants affirm their social worth. The results provide evidence that the devaluing of the uneducated in a broader context, and not merely cognitive deficiencies among the uneducated as has been previously proposed, may be responsible in part for their greater endorsement of authoritarian values.


Primary Prediction: We predict that people with less education who are given a chance to establish their worth will report less authoritarianism than people with less education in a control condition. People who have a higher level of education will not be affected by the manipulation because the theory predicts that people with higher social status already have their social worth validated by their status (cf. Henry, 2009). We did not expect to find this pattern of results for all measures of authoritarianism, but only for a measure of authoritarian child-rearing values. More explicit forms of authoritarianism, such as the right-wing authoritarianism scale, were not expected to show the same pattern of results.

Additional Exploratory Questions:

1. Will it be necessary for participants to be reminded of the stigmatized/low social value of people who have low levels of education?
2. Is it possible to reliably measure perceived social value and does this relate to authoritarianism?

Experimental Manipulations:

Social value was manipulated by asking participants to consider their relative social status compared to people at the bottom of the social ladder (social value affirmation) or compared to the top of the social ladder (social value threat). This technique has been used to manipulate social status in the past (e.g., Kraus et al., 2011).

We manipulated whether or not participants were reminded of the status and social value of education by asking participants to complete items referring to the social value of education either at the beginning or the end of the survey.

Key Dependent Variables:

4-item authoritarian child-rearing scale (Brandt & Henry, 2012; Feldman & Stenner, 1997; Henry, 2011)

5-item right wing authoritarianism scale (from Funke, 2005)

Additional measures and covariates:

1-item measure of mood (“How would you describe your mood right now?”)

1-item measure of self-esteem (“I have high self-esteem.”)

1-item measure of conscientiousness (scale ranging from “Someone who likes to plan things, like to tidy up, pays attention to details, but can be rigid or inflexible” to “Someone who doesn't necessarily work to a schedule, tends to be flexible, but disorganized and often forgets to put things back in their proper place”)

2-item measure of social value (“People see me as having value to society.” & “I am not respected by the broader society.”)

Summary of Findings:

For each the authoritarian child-rearing values and RWA measures we regressed the focal dependent variable on the social value manipulation, mean-centered participant education, the interaction between the social value manipulation and participant education, mean-centered mood, and mean-centered self-esteem.

The results were consistent with our predictions. For the measure of authoritarian child-rearing values, we found that people who were less educated reported more support for authoritarian child-rearing values compared to people who are highly educated (b = -.08, SE = .01, p < .001). As expected, this effect was qualified by the expected significant participant X social value interaction (b = .04, SE = .01, p = .01). In the condition where people experienced social value threat, the relationship between education and authoritarian child-rearing values was strong and in the expected direction, negative and significant, b = -.11, SE = .02, p < .001. In the social value affirmation condition, the association between education and authoritarianism was significantly weaker, b = -.04, SE = .02, p = .02. These results suggest that authoritarianism among the uneducated is not just a product of cognitive and democratic deficiencies, but may serve to buffer threats to the social worth of the stigmatized (cf. Brandt & Henry, 2012; Henry, 2011).

We also found only a main effect of education on RWA (b = -.11, SE = .02, p < .001) and no significant main effects or interactions with the social value manipulation (all p’s > .10).

The effect of the social value of education reminder did not have consistent effects and did not qualify the above results, suggesting that the effects of education-stigma on authoritarianism do not require situational reminders of stigma. The two items measuring perceived social value did not mediate the results above suggesting that the social-value process we predict may be more implicit.

The results further suggest that members of stigmatized groups adopt authoritarian values because of the psychological protection that it provides. This goes beyond previous internal explanations for the association between education and authoritarianism that relied on characterizations of the uneducated as thoughtless and unknowledgeable to suggest that the external stigmatizing environment plays an important role.


Brandt, M. J., & Henry, P. J. (under review). A stigma-based explanation for the association between education and authoritarian values. Manuscript submitted for publication

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