Bob Altemeyer

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Not to be confused with Rob Altemeyer.
Bob Altemeyer
Born (1940-06-06)June 6, 1940
Nationality Canadian
Fields Psychology
Institutions University of Manitoba
Alma mater Carnegie Mellon University
Known for Research into authoritarianism
Notable awards AAAS Prize for Behavioral Science Research

Robert Anthony "Bob" Altemeyer (born June 6, 1940), is a retired Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba.[1][2] He produced the test and scale for "RWA" or Right-wing authoritarianism.[3]

He did extensive research on authoritarianism, identifying the psychological makeup of authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders. His studies concentrated on who the followers are, how they got that way, how they think, and why they are by turns so submissive and aggressive. He also collected data on authoritarianism among North American politicians. Altemeyer's work is extensively referenced in John W. Dean's 2006 book, Conservatives Without Conscience.[3][4] At Dean's suggestion, he wrote an "everyperson" account of his findings, The Authoritarians, which is freely available online.[5]

A major problem with Altemeyer's work is revealed when we find that his RWA measuring instrument identifies the Communists of the old Soviet Union as right-wing. But if they are right-wing who is left wing? His confusion arises from his apparent definition of conservatism as "opposed to change". That definition is however politically naive. Conservatives from Burke onward have never been opposed to change as such but rather opposed to changes desired and enacted by Leftists. The current Left/Right polarity is between conservatives who want less government control and Leftists who want more of that. Altemeyer seems to be unaware of that so his work has no current political relevance.

In detail: The decline and fall of Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe enabled use of his RWA scale there. Studies in the East such as those by Altemeyer & Kamenshikov (1991), McFarland, Ageyev and Abalakina-Paap (1992) and Hamilton, Sanders & McKearney (1995) showed that high RWA scores were associated with support for Communism!! So an alleged "Rightist" scale went from being non-political to being a measure of Leftism! If you took it at face-value, it showed Communists were Rightists!

After that, Altemeyer more or less gave up his original claim and engaged in a bit of historical revisionism. He said (Altemeyer, 1996, p. 218) that when he "began talking about right-wing authoritarianism, I was (brazenly) inventing a new sense, a social psychological sense that denotes submission to the perceived established authorities in one's life". It is true that he did originally define what he was measuring in something like that way (in detail, he defined it as a combination of three elements: submissiveness to established authority, adherence to social conventions and general aggressiveness) but what was new, unusual or "brazen" about such a conceptualization defies imagination. The concept of submission to established authority was, for instance, part of the old Adorno et al (1950) work. What WAS brazen was Altemeyer's claim that what he was measuring was characteristic of the political Right. But it is precisely the "Right-wing" claim that he now seems to have dropped and the RWA scale is now said to measure simply submission to authority. See:

Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper.

Altemeyer, R. (1996). The Authoritarian Specter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Altemeyer, R. & Kamenshikov, A. (1991) Impressions of American and Soviet behaviour: RWA changes in a mirror. South African J. Psychology 21, 255-260.

Hamilton, V. L., Sanders, J., & McKearney, S. J. (1995). Orientations toward authority in an authoritarian state: Moscow in 1990. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 356-365

McFarland, S. G., Ageyev, V. S., & Abalakina-Paap, M. A. (1992). Authoritarianism in the former Soviet Union. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 1004-1010

Bob Altemeyer was awarded the American Association for the Advancement of Science Prize for Behavioral Science Research in 1986.[6]

His son, Rob Altemeyer, is an MLA in the Manitoba Legislature.[7]


  • Altemeyer, Bob (1981). Right-Wing Authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. ISBN 0-88755-124-6. 
  • — (1988). Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism. Mississauga: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-1555420970. 
  • — (1997). The Authoritarian Specter. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-05305-2. 
  • —; Hunsberger, Bruce (1997). Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith and Others Abandon Religion. Amherst: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1573921473. 
  • Hunsberger, Bruce; Altemeyer, Bob (2006). Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers. Amherst: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1591024132. 
  • Altemeyer, Bob (2006). The Authoritarians (PDF). Winnipeg: University of Manitoba. OCLC 191061772. 
  • — (2009). Sex and Youth: A Twenty-Four Year Investigation. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba. OCLC 516955225. 


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