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Racism: Are Germans Different?
by John J. Ray

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Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck & Vetter (1989) report research from Germany that suggests a link between the coronary-prone personality and racism.

Their work does, however, have many problematical features. The question is therefore re-examined cross-culturally using a scale of aggressive dominance to index the Coronary-prone personality and scales of racism of a more plausible kind than that used by Grossarth-Maticek et al. Four random community samples were taken -- from Los Angeles in the U.S.A., the Australian State of New South Wales, Bloemfontein in South Africa and Munich in West Germany. In the German sample only it was found that racists did tend to have personalities characterized by aggressive dominance. The connection between aggressive dominance and Nazism is noted.


Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck & Vetter (1989) report a curious study of middle-aged West German males wherein a form of psychological training designed to ward off heart and other diseases was found to reduce racism among those trained. This must seem a rather remarkable link between apparently very disparate phenomena so it surely invites closer examination.

On closer examination, something that quite stands out is the peculiar way in which racism was measured. The instrument used consisted of eight statements, all of which expressed extreme, sweeping and rather paranoid negative judgments of various groups, only four of which were racially denominated. This impression of extremity and eccentricity is confirmed when one uses the frequencies of agreement reported for each item to calculate how often people agreed, on average, with each statement. It turns out that only about 5% of the respondents agreed with any given item. What was measured, therefore seems to have been some sort of eccentricity rather than anything else.

Racism, by contrast, now seems to be generally viewed by psychologists as comprising "universal ineradicable psychological processes" (Brown, 1986. See also Tajfel & Fraser, 1978). Racism, then, can hardly be equated with what Grossarth-Maticek et al measured.To do so would be to equate a 5% minority phenomenon with a universal one.

There are also many other problems with the Grossarth-Maticek et al study. Perhaps they should be briefly listed: No reliability or validity figures are given for the prejudice scale but given the extremely skewed distribution of the responses it seems highly probable that both are negligible. Correlations between the personality scales and the prejudice scale are not given. This appears to be a consequence of the strange distribution of "prejudice". In order to produce a somewhat more normal distribution for analysis, the authors categorized anybody who agreed with even one "prejudiced" statement as a racist. They then also categorized each person in their sample into one of four personality "types" on the basis of some other scales that also seem to be unique to Grossarth- Maticek. The frequency of prejudiced people within each personality type was then given and shown to be different.

People of an "unstressed" type were less likely to be "prejudiced". Again, however, the highly skewed nature of the data would suggest that this relationship would be shown to be negligible if it were presented in correlational form.

The assumption that a person is "prejudiced" if he agrees with just one eccentric statement of outgroup hostility is an extraordinarily incautious one. The whole reason why psychologists use multi-item scales is that they deem judgments based on single questions to be unsafe. Only when respondents have agreed with several statements expressing (say) racism would one normally feel able to categorize them in any way.

One reason for this caution is that it is well-recognized that people may agree with statements for various "extraneous" reasons --reasons unconnected with what the psychologist wants to measure. One of these reasons is a general tendency to say "Yes" in preference to any other response. This is the well-known problem of "acquiescent bias". Grossarth-Maticek et al dismiss this problem on the grounds that a 1949 study by Eysenck and Crown showed no acquiescence factor in a balanced Anti-Semitism scale. This however ignores what is very much the problem with acquiescent bias -- its unpredictability (Ray, 1983 & 1985). Sometimes acquiescence will "strike" a scale and sometimes it will not and even the most "obvious" predictions of when this will or will not occur can be falsified. The only way to ensure that it does not distort responses, therefore, is to control for it in advance by using balanced scales (scales with an equal mix of "For" and "Against" items). This Grossarth-Maticek et al failed to do. Many of Grossarth-Maticek's "racists" could therefore have just been nice guys who were disposed to agree with the interviewer.

Do the Grossarth-Maticek results mean anything at all, then? Perhaps. Given the nature of the items in the "Prejudice" scale, and the lack of validity evidence for them, it seems quite reasonable to label them as measuring "hostility" as much as anything else. We know, however, that hostility/aggression seems to be the main psychological precursor of coronary heart disease (Diamond, 1982). If the course of disease-averting training devised by Grossarth-Maticek was competently designed (and there is some suggestion that it did get some favourable results), it should therefore tend to reduce hostility/aggression (or at least the expression of it). So the Grossarth-Maticek findings reduce to saying that a course of training designed to reduce hostility/aggression did in fact reduce the expression of at least one sort of it. This is, of course, a much less exciting finding than the one we started out with. It is, however, a very parsimonious explanation of the results.

Being clever about the interpretation of other people's results is, however, never very persuasive of itself. It may raise doubts but it can hardly answer questions. Clearly, the issues raised by Grossarth-Maticek should not just be dismissed. They deserve independent re-examination. Some attempt at that is presented below.


Given the obvious psychometric failures of Grossarth-Maticek's "Prejudice" scale, the prospect of using any of Grossarth-Maticek's scales was not inviting. Instead, it seemed important to measure personality by using well-validated and reliable balanced scales with a proven relationship to the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD).

The scale that springs to mind in this connection is obviously the Jenkins Activity Survey (JAS) of Jenkins, Zyzanski & Rosenman (1979). This survey provides a measure of an overall "A-B" variable plus measures of three sub-factors, including a sub-factor of Speed and Impatience. Despite its being widely used, however, the JAS is almost as uninviting as the Grossarth-Maticek scales if one has regard to the literature on the subject.

For a start, the Speed and Impatience aspect seems to be much stressed in descriptions of what constitutes "A-B". Yet the Test Manual for the JAS (Jenkins, Zyzanski & Rosenman, 1979) shows that the Speed and Impatience factor does not predict CHD incidence in the studies surveyed. Moreover, even the overall "A-B" measure is not a very good predictor of CHD. It has been shown that a better prediction is obtained by using a measure of aggressive dominance (Ray & Simons, 1982; Ray, 1984 & 1986) and that "A-B" predicts CHD only insofar as it measures aggressive dominance (Ray, 1986). Other commentaries on the inadequacy of "A-B" and the JAS are legion but perhaps papers by Linden (1987), Myrtek & Greenlee (1984), Hansson, Hogan, Johnson & Schroeder (1983), Davis & Cowles (1985), Ray & Bozek (1980) and Booth-Kewley & Friedman (1987) could be specifically referred to. In the circumstances it was decided that the scale of aggressive dominance (the "Directiveness" scale) used in Ray (1984 & 1986) should be preferred to the JAS. The scale has not only had extensive validation as a measure of what it purports to measure (e.g. Ray, 1976 & 1981b; Ray & Lovejoy, 1988; Heaven, 1984; Rigby, 1984) but it has also, as mentioned, been shown as a superior predictor of CHD. The first question of interest, then, is whether this scale predicts racism. If it does, it might then be of interest to see if treatments designed to reduce aggressive dominance also reduce the incidence of CHD.

As it happens, the present author is in a particularly good position to examine the correlation between the Directiveness scale and racism. He has done many surveys using the Directiveness scale and such surveys have also on several occasions included measures of racism. A large archive of information is therefore readily available to give the question thorough and cross-cultural investigation.


This survey used a random doorstep sample of 100 people living in the Greater Los Angeles area of California in the U.S.A. Fuller methodological details are available in Ray (1980b). A balanced scale of attitudes to blacks was included along with the Mark III form (Ray, 1980b) of the Directiveness scale.

The attitude to blacks scale was adapted from the Attitude to Aborigines scale of Ray (1976) and has been validated by Heaven & Moerdyk (1977). On the present occasion it showed a reliability (alpha) of .88. Its positive and negative halves correlated .60. Its 14 items were scored from 5 (Strongly Agree) to 1 (Strongly Disagree) with a "?" midpoint of 3. The mean score on the scale was 36.46 (S.D. 9.11), which compares to a scale midpoint score of 42 (14 multiplied by an item midpoint score of 3). Four items showed above-midpoint scores and ten items showed below-midpoint scores. The scale did, then, distribute the respondents well and showed that they tended to reject racist sentiments to the extent of showing a mean score about two thirds of an S.D. below the scale midpoint. The Directiveness scale showed a reliability (alpha) of .73 and the two scales correlated -.024 (N.S.). Aggressive dominance, then, did not correlate with racism.


This study used a random mail-out sample of 172 adult Australians. The sampling frame was the electoral rolls (voter registration lists) for the Australian State (comparable to an American State or a German Land) of New South Wales. Fuller methodological details are available in Ray (1981a). The scale of racism used was similar to that in Study I but referred to "Aborigines" rather than "Blacks". Aborigines are Australia's native blacks. The scale reliability (alpha) was .85 and the mean score was 37.94 (S.D. 8.62). Again the mean score for four items was above the midpoint with ten items below. The mean scale score was, however, a little closer to the scale midpoint so again the items distributed the subjects well. The reliability (alpha) of the Directiveness scale was .78 and the two scales correlated -.102 (N.S.). Again, racists showed no significant sign of being aggressively dominant.


This study used a random doorstep sample of the Munich conurbation in West Germany. N = 136. Fuller methodological details are available in Ray & Kiefl (1984). All scales were administered in German and the scale of racism on this occasion referred to Gastarbeiter (guest-workers from generally Mediterranean countries) as these seem to represent the biggest "ethnic" issue in Germany today. The ten item scale showed a reliability of .75, with a mean of 31.84 (S.D. 10.86).

This mean compares with a scale midpoint of 40 (there being on this occasion seven response-options per item) and shows therefore a clear overall tendency for respondents to be at least verbally tolerant of Gastarbeiter. Two items showed means above the item midpoint and eight showed means below. This scale did then again distribute the respondents fairly well in the context of a very tolerant sample. The Directiveness scale showed a reliability (alpha) of .74 and correlated .267 (p <.01) with the racism scale. This means that German racists do show a tendency towards aggressive dominance.


Given the apparent cross-cultural differences so far revealed, it seemed of interest to look at one more non-English-speaking sample. These were 95 Afrikaans-speaking white residents of the South African city of Bloemfontein. The sample was gathered randomly door-to-door and fuller methodological details can be found in Ray & Heaven (1984).

The scale of attitude to blacks used in Study I was translated into Afrikaans and showed a reliability of .66. Its mean score was 22.44 (S.D. 3.86) with ten items and three response-options per item. Seven items showed above-midpoint scores and three below. This South African sample, then (rather unsurprisingly), tended not to like blacks. The reliability (alpha) of the Mark III Directiveness scale was .67 and it correlated -.086 (N.S.) with the racism scale.


Clearly, the present work has shown that, for all their methodological failings, Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck & Vetter were on to something. Their findings for Germany were confirmed but it was also shown that the finding does not generalize beyond Germany. When it comes to racism, there would appear to be something different about Germans. In Germany, coronary prone personalities and racism are linked. To be a racially antagonistic person has some tendency to mean that you also have a coronary-prone personality. All the correlations are, however, low so one could not go on to claim that to be a racist also means that you will in fact be more likely to have coronary problems. Many people with a coronary-prone personality do not get CHD and many racists do not have a coronary-prone personality. Only more research could tell whether racism and CHD are directly linked. That would seem a worthwhile line of enquiry for German psychologists.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking aspect of the present comparison, however, is that the Directiveness scale was originally devised to provide a valid measure of, not the coronary-prone personality, but rather the core element of a Nazi-type orientation. It was, in other words, designed to measure an authoritarian personality. Adorno et al (1950), of course, in their endeavour to explain (German) Nazism identified authoritarianism as a prime cause of racism. So the present results both confirm and limit the Adorno et al theory. It is a theory that is somewhat true for Germany but not for elsewhere. It might be objected that these findings simply reflect an historical heritage in Germany: That the association of an authoritarian ideology and racism in the Hitler era has somehow contaminated the thinking of modern-day Germans too. The Directiveness scale, however, does not measure authoritarian attitudes. It measures an authoritarian personality or behaviour tendency and it has long been known that authoritarian attitudes are not correlated with authoritarian personality or behaviour tendency (Titus, 1968; Ray, 1976). Any authoritarian attitudes, including attitudes surviving from the Hitler era, would therefore seem irrelevant to the present findings.


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N.B. This paper is published on the internet only but it draws together data from four published journal articles. Full references are given. This paper may be freely  quoted, cited and circulated as long as appropriate acknowledgment is made.

John Ray (

October, 2000.

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