Authoritarianism, Authoritarian Syndrome & the Antidemocratic Personality

9 Signs of an Authoritarian Personality & How to Deal with It

An authoritarian personality can be a complicated, multi-faceted challenge to deal with. It is often a deeply ingrained set of beliefs that take a great deal of time to break down and address.

Here we explore what an authoritarian personality means, how you can recognize it, and what you can do if somebody in your life falls into this category.

Defining an Authoritarian Personality

This type of personality is the subject of a great deal of study and learning throughout the field of psychology, often in the context of understanding why damaging belief systems have been dominant in some parts of the world, at a staggering cost.

Authoritarianism derives from believing in a static, unwavering set of rules about power and control, submission, and obedience.

Behavioral scientists often link this to fascism and a genuine perception that some people are weak, and others are strong – that some should rule, and others should follow.

Some of the overriding ‘tests’ to identify authoritarianism come from Theodor Adorno’s F-scale, published in the last century. In this case, the ‘F’ represents fascism and was created to understand how people become racist.

Signs of An Authoritarian Characteristic

This type of personality is often learned behavior and refers back to a set of rules and standards learned in the early years, thus becoming prevalent as an adult.

It sounds intimidating, but often a person who is caught in this cycle of limiting beliefs can find it extremely difficult to speak about it, try to relearn their perspective of the world, and train their brain to perceive people in a new light.

While it is easy to feel distrust and dislike towards authoritarian people, we must also consider why they think the way they do and be prepared to be a part of changing their mindset for the better.

Signs you might identify include:

1. Dominance

A dominant, aggressive, and intolerant person who cannot accept people different from themselves – whether in the way they work, their lifestyle, or their own belief systems. Individuals who must be in control at all times and crave power and authority.

2. Cynicism

Cynical people who view the world through a veil of discord and discontentment.

3. Superiority Complex

Those who genuinely believe themselves to be superior to others without having a tangible or quantifiable reason for this superiority complex.

This can manifest in terms of discrimination, racism, and extreme offense towards others – for example, a person who doesn’t look like them, or lives a lifestyle they consider unacceptable.

4. Unwavering beliefs

An authoritarian person believes in a fixed set of rights and wrongs and cannot look beyond those rules or see the grey areas between the black and white boundaries they have established.

5. Hostility

People who think in this way will be very fast to judge and condemn anybody who disagrees, are intolerant of other ideas, or less rigid ideologies.

6. Fearfulness

An authoritarian person is trapped inside their beliefs, and for many, it seems impossible ever to be able to relax their mindset.

They thrive on fear, power, and control – deeming anybody of whom they do not ‘approve’ to be a threat that should be eliminated.

7. Aggression

People who think like this tend to lack emotional intelligence and, therefore, the maturity to appreciate other perspectives.

Consequently, they struggle with empathy and may become angry and frustrated very quickly.

8. Prejudice

Prejudice is a crippling thought process and one that can be extremely difficult to break down. Authoritarian people cannot listen to any opinion other than their own.

9. Inability to Reason

If you have a fixed mindset that cannot be changed, you can also not listen to reason, explain your thought processes, or rationalize your belief systems coherently.

They are merely there, and no amount of reasoning will help you break out of it.

How to Deal with Authoritarian People

All in all, an authoritarian personality is rarely pleasant to be around. However, what can you do if you encounter somebody like this, or have a personal relationship with them, and need to find a way to counter their destructive mindset or help them to see another perspective?

Here are a few tips to make the relationship more manageable:

Don’t take it personally

They can’t help but abide by the stringent set of rules in their head; never let it get to you.

Try to understand their way of doing things

Try to see things from their perspective even if you disagree with it. You can quickly make peace by trying to get to grips with what things act as a trigger, much as you would with a person struggling with a mental health condition.

Build a relationship over time

This is mainly true if you are in a workplace environment. If there are specific tasks that must be done in a particular way, learn how to do them, and don’t challenge their requirements unless it is fundamentally against your own belief system.

Stand your ground when you need to

Gather allies who understand the challenge that an authoritarian personality presents. While you can adopt techniques to accept and appreciate their limiting nature, you don’t have to bend to it.

And if the authoritarian person is someone you are close to? They almost certainly need professional support to try and unpick their thought processes.

That isn’t something that can happen quickly or painlessly, so if you know an authoritarian person who is willing to change, they will need all the help they can get to do so.

Remember – most of our belief systems are taught and learned, and often not a conscious choice. Try to be understanding and help them work through the unlearning of this toxic mindset. It will definitely be worth it.



Lauren Edwards-Fowle, M.Sc., B.Sc.

Staff writer at Learning Mind

Lauren Edwards-Fowle is a professional copywriter based in South East England. Lauren worked within Children’s Services for five years before moving into the business sector. She holds an M.Sc. in Applied Accountancy and B.Sc. in Corporate Law. She now volunteers within the community sport sector, helping young people to live healthier, more productive lifestyles and overcome the barriers to inclusion that they face.

Authoritarian personality

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the psychological trait of authoritarianism. For the form of government that bears the same name, see Authoritarianism. For the book, see The Authoritarian Personality.

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The authoritarian personality is a personality type characterized by a disposition to treat authority figures with unquestioning obedience and respect. Conceptually, the term authoritarian personality originated from the writings of Erich Fromm, and usually is applied to men and women who exhibit a strict and oppressive personality towards their subordinates.[1]


Historical origins[edit]

In The Authoritarian Personality (1950), Theodor W. Adorno and Else Frenkel-BrunswikDaniel Levinson and Nevitt Sanford proposed a personality type that involved the “potentially fascistic individual.”[2] The historical background that influenced the theoretical development of the authoritarian personality included the rise of fascism in the 1930s, the Second World War (1939–1945), and the Holocaust, which indicated that the fascistic individual was psychologically susceptible to the ideology of anti-Semitism and to the emotional appeal of anti-democratic politics. Known as the Berkeley studies, the researches of Adorno and Frenkel-Brunswik, and of Levinson and Sanford concentrated upon prejudice, which they studied within psychoanalytic and psychosocial frameworks of Freudian and Frommian theories.

Although the term was first coined in 1950, different portrayals of the authoritarian personality type have been made before. One example being Der Untertan,[3] a famous German novel, which draws its inspiration for its authoritarian protagonist from the German Kaiser Wilhelm II.[4] Showing that the idea for an authoritarian personality type predates fascism.

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The authoritarian personality has a strict superego, which controls a weak ego that is unable to cope with the strong impulses of the id. The resulting intrapsychic conflicts cause personal insecurities, which result in the superego adhering to externally imposed conventional norms (conventionalism), and unquestioning obedience to the authorities who impose and administer the social norms of society (authoritarian submission). The ego-defense mechanism of psychological projection arises when the authoritarian person avoids self-reference to the anxiety-producing impulse(s) of the id, by projecting the impulse(s) onto the “inferior” minority social-groups of the culture (projectivity), which are expressed by way of greatly evaluative and harshly judgmental beliefs (power and toughness) and rigid stereotype.

The authoritarian person also presents a cynical and disdainful view of humanity, and a need to wield power and be tough, which arise from the anxieties produced by the perceived lapses of people who do not abide by the conventions and social norms of society (destructiveness and cynicism); a general tendency to focus upon people who violate the value system, and to act oppressively against them (authoritarian aggression); anti-intellectualism, a general opposition to the subjective and imaginative tendencies of the mind (anti-intraception); a tendency to believe in mystic determination (superstition); and an exaggerated concern with sexual promiscuity.

In human psychological development, the formation of the authoritarian personality occurs within the first years of a child’s life, strongly influenced and shaped by the parents’ personalities and the organizational structure of the child’s family; thus, parent-child relations that are “hierarchical, authoritarian, [and] exploitative” can result in a child developing an authoritarian personality.[5] Authoritarian-personality characteristics are fostered by parents who have a psychological need for domination, and who harshly threaten their child to compel obedience to conventional behaviors.

Moreover, such domineering parents also are preoccupied with social status, a concern they communicate by having the child follow rigid, external rules. In consequence of such domination, the child suffers emotionally from the suppression of his or her feelings of aggression and resentment towards the domineering parents, whom the child reverently idealizes, but does not criticize. Such personalities may also be related to studies in preschool children of personality and political views as reported by scientists in 2006 which concluded that some children described as being “somewhat dominating” were later found, as adults, to be “relatively liberal”, and those described as “relatively over-controlled” were later found, as adults, to be “relatively conservative”; in the words of the researchers, “Preschool children who 20 years later were relatively liberal were characterized as: developing close relationships, self-reliant, energetic, somewhat dominating, relatively under-controlled, and resilient. Preschool children subsequently relatively conservative at age 23 were described as: feeling easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and relatively over-controlled and vulnerable.”[6]

Links to gender inequality[edit]

According to a study by Brandt and Henry, there is a direct correlation between the rates of gender inequality and the levels of authoritarian ideas in the male and female populations. It was found that in countries with less gender equality where individualism was encouraged and men occupied the dominant societal roles, women were more likely to support traits such as obedience which would allow them to survive in an authoritarian environment and less likely to encourage ideas such as independence and imagination. In countries with higher levels of gender equality, men held less authoritarian views. It is theorized that this occurs due to the stigma attached to individuals who question the cultural norms set by the dominant individuals and establishments in an authoritarian society as a way to prevent the psychological stress caused by the active ostracizing of the stigmatized individuals.[7]

Issues with Brandt and Henry’s study is that the countries with the highest levels of egalitarianism, which are the Scandinavian countries, have more men in positions of power in private sector roles such as management than the US. Individualism is far more encouraged in the US and enforced societal gender roles are under attack far more in places such as Sweden and Denmark.[8]


Bob Altemeyer used the right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale, to identify, measure, and quantify the personality traits of authoritarian people.[9] The political personality type identified with the RWA scale indicates the existence of three psychological tendencies and attitudinal clusters characteristic of the authoritarian personality: (i) Submission to legitimate authorities; (ii) Aggression towards minority groups whom authorities identified as targets for sanctioned political violence; and (iii) Adherence to cultural values and political beliefs endorsed by the authorities.[10] As measured with the NEO-PI-R Openness scale, the research indicates a negative correlation (r=0.57) between the personality trait of “openness to experience“, of the Five Factor Model of the human personality.

The research of Jost, Glaser, Arie W. Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003) indicates that authoritarianism and right-wing authoritarianism are ideological constructs for social cognition, by which political conservatives view people who are the Other who is not the Self. That the authoritarian personality and the conservative personality share two, core traits: (i) resistance to change (social, political. economic), and (ii) justification for social inequality among the members of society. Conservatives have a psychological need to manage existential uncertainty and threats with situational motives (striving for dominance in social hierarchies) and with dispositional motives (self-esteem and the management of fear).

The research on ideology, politics, and racist prejudice, by John Duckitt and Chris Sibley, identified two types of authoritarian worldview: (i) that the social world is dangerous, which leads to right-wing authoritarianism; and (ii) that the world is a ruthlessly competitive jungle, which leads to social dominance orientation.[11] In a meta-analysis of the research, Sibley and Duckitt explained that the social-dominance orientation scale helps to measure the generalization of prejudice and other authoritarian attitudes that can exist within social groups. Although both the right-wing authoritarianism scale and the social-dominance orientation scale can accurately measure authoritarian personalities, the scales usually are not correlated.[12]


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Early research[edit]

These researchers’ most noteworthy measurement for authoritarianism is the F-scale, designed to tap a set of beliefs thought to be associated with authoritarianism without the need for specific out-groups indicated. Kirscht and Dillehay (1967)[13] outlined several problems with the Berkeley studies, including response bias. Response bias results from the F-scale being uniformly worded in a confirming direction. Hence, if one tends to respond in agreement with items, regardless of their content, one is rated as an authoritarian by such a test. Several studies have shown that more variance of the F-scale can be explained by response bias than the content of the items (Kirscht & Dillehay, 1967).

Actual assessment of 16 Nazi criminals at Nuremberg trials (reported in Zillmer, et al., 1995)[14] conducted by clinicians using the Rorschach test, and in one study, the F scale for authoritarianism, found that these ex-Nazis score high on three dimensions (anti-intraception, superstition and stereotyping, and projectivity), but not all nine dimensions as the theory predicted.

One of the first applications of the authoritarian scales in academia was by Stern and colleagues, in the early 1950s, at the University of Chicago.[15] The hypothesized prediction was that “authoritarian” students would have difficulty in the sciences and humanities, and use of an attitudinal scale was a successful predictor.


Among the criticisms of the sociologic theory presented in The Authoritarian Personality (1950) are the validity of the psychoanalytic interpretation of personality; methodological inadequacies of the California F-scale personality test; and bias that authoritarianism exists only in the right wing of the political spectrum. In addition an analysis examining the authoritarian personality approach written by C.G. Sibley and J. Duckitt reported that more recent research has produced two more effective scales of measurement for authoritative personalities. The first scale is called the Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and the second is called the Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). They have proved to be highly reliable in predicting prejudice and other characteristics associated with authoritative personalities.

[12] In The Anti-authoritarian Personality (1977) W.P. Kreml found stylistic similarities between authoritarians and anti-authoritarians (dogmatism, rigidity, etc.), and that variable constructs, such as (a) the relative need for order, (b) the relative need for power, (c) the rejection or acceptance of impulse, and (d) extroversion-versus-introversion, differentiated the two types of personality, and could underpin a full-spectrum psycho-political theory.[16]

Wiggins provided an insightful explanation of how the authoritarian construct is an example of the synthetic approach to personality assessment. In short, in the synthetic approach, the assumption is that those with authoritarian personality characteristics are assessed with researcher’s intuitive model of what characteristics fit the criterion role requirements of the predicted situation (support of Fascism). Hence, it is not a completely empirical approach to prediction, but rather based on “arm chair” situational analysis of the criteria, and intuited psychological characteristics to be assessed that fit the situation. More recently, Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003)[17] have presented how the traditional research in authoritarianism or conservatism has confounded the psychological variables (e.g., personality characteristics) with the political criteria (conservative attitudes). Hence the scales measuring individual differences on authoritarianism often include the criteria attitudinal statements of political ideologies.

The personality construct for the authoritarian personality proposed that the social environment influenced the expression of prejudice, based upon the social forces of the time, because the authoritarian person’s ideology is created within the culture. Yet, in “The Social Being and Social Psychology” (1998) S. Taylor[18] said that the hypothesized interaction of society and the authoritarian person was lost to the subsequent research that used the F-scale in differential psychological studies. Given the science of personality assessment, the variety of methods Adorno, et al. used are now unsupported, and might explain that lack of empirical studies using the F-scale or the other scales developed by Adorno et al. in subsequent research.

An example of the social environment impact is presented by Gibb (1969)[19] in his critique of personality traits and leadership, where a study by Katz suggested that the social situation can override personality differences. In the study, groups of black and white students were formed. Some mixed racial groups had students scoring high authoritarian F scores, and in other mixed groups, low F score students. Comparisons of high authoritarian white students to those not scoring authoritarian indicated that the former student type were more cooperative and less willing to endorse stereotypes towards blacks. Situational norms against prejudicial perceptions might have influenced authoritarian students to act less prejudicial in order to conform to the prescribed norm. Altemeyer’s analytical research indicated that of the nine personality components hypothesized, only three components correlated: (i) authoritarian submission, (ii) authoritarian aggression, and (iii) conventionalism.[20]


Western countries[edit]

In 2021, Morning Consult (an American data intelligence company) published the results of a survey measuring the levels of authoritarianism in adults in America and seven other Western countries. The study used Bob Altemeyer’s right-wing authoritarianism scale, but they omitted the following two statements from Altemeyer’s scale: (1) “The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protestors are usually just “loud mouths” showing off their ignorance”; and (2) “Women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married.” Morning Consult’s scale thus had just 20 items, with a score range of 20 to 180 points. Morning Consult found that 25.6% of American adults qualify as “high RWA” (scoring between 111 and 180 points), while 13.4% of American adults qualify as “low RWA” (scoring 20 to 63 points).[21]


United States[edit]

In a 2009 book, Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler identified evangelical Christians as the most authoritarian of voting blocs in the United States. Furthermore, the former Confederate states (ie “the South”) showed higher levels of authoritarianism than the rest. Rural populations tend to be more authoritarian than urban ones. The authoritarianism levels of these demographics were assessed with four items that appeared in the American National Election Studies:

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: INDEPENDENCE or RESPECT FOR ELDERS
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: CURIOSITY or GOOD MANNERS
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: OBEDIENCE or SELF-RELIANCE
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: BEING CONSIDERATE or WELL BEHAVED
GroupMean authoritarianism
(2004 data)[22]
Mainline Protestant0.530
Church Attendance
Weekly or More0.689
Less than Weekly0.549
the South[a]0.657
Other states0.547
Population density
Small town0.584
Large City0.502
Inner City0.549
Less than High School0.754
High School Degree0.657
Some College0.590
College Degree0.505
Graduate Degree0.373

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The states that constituted the now-defunct Confederacy.
  1. ^ Baars, J. & Scheepers, P. (1993). “Theoretical and Methodological Foundations of the Authoritarian Personality“. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 29, pp. 345–353.
  2. ^ Adorno, T. W.; Frenkel-Brunswik, E.; Levinson, D.J.; Sanford, R. N. (1950). The Authoritarian PersonalityHarper & BrothersISBN 978-0-06-030150-7.
  3. ^ Der Untertan in Deutsch | Schülerlexikon | Lernhelfer
  4. ^ “Heinrich Mann – “Der Untertan” bleibt ein zeitloses Phänomen”Deutschlandfunk (in German). Retrieved 2021-12-02.
  5. ^ Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality (1950) pp. 482–484.
  6. ^ Block, Jack; Block, Jeanne H. (October 2006). “Nursery school personality and political orientation two decades later” (PDF). Journal of Research in Personality40 (5): 734–749. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2005.09.005. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  7. ^ Brandt, Mark J.; Henry, P. J. (2012). “Gender Inequality and Gender Differences in Authoritarianism”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin38 (10): 1301–15. doi:10.1177/0146167212449871PMID 22733982S2CID 14257738.
  8. ^ “The ‘paradox’ of working in the world’s most equal countries”.
  9. ^ Altemeyer, Bob (1998) “The Other ‘Authoritarian Personality’ , Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, pp. 30, 47–91.
  10. ^ McCrae and Costa (1997). Conceptions and Correlates of Openness to ExperienceHandbook of Personality Psychology, R. Hogan, J. Johnson, S. Briggs, Eds). pp. 835–847.
  11. ^ Duckitt, John; Sibley, Chris G. (2009). “A Dual-Process Motivational Model of Ideology, Politics, and Prejudice”. Psychological Inquiry20 (2–3): 98–109. doi:10.1080/10478400903028540S2CID 143766574.
  12. Jump up to:a b Sibley, Chris G.; Duckitt, John (2008-08-01). “Personality and Prejudice: A Meta-Analysis and Theoretical Review”. Personality and Social Psychology Review12 (3): 248–279. doi:10.1177/1088868308319226ISSN 1088-8683PMID 18641385S2CID 5156899.
  13. ^ Kirscht, JP, & Dillehay, RC. (1967). Dimensions of Authoritarianism: A Review of Research and Theory. University of Kentucky Press: Lexington, TN.
  14. ^ Zillmer, E. A., Harrower, M., Ritzler, B.A., and Archer, R.P. (1995). The Quest for the Nazi Personality: A Psychological Investigation of Nazi War Criminals. LEA Hillside, NJ
  15. ^ Wiggins, J.S. (1980). Personality and Prediction: Principles of Personality Assessment. Addison-Wesley. Reading, Mass.
  16. ^ Kreml, William P. The Anti-Authoritarian Personality (1977) Oxford;New York:Pergamon Press.ISBN 978-0-08-021063-6.
  17. ^ Jost, JT., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, AW., and Sulloway, FJ. (2003). “Political conservatism as motivated social cognition.” Psychological Bulletin, 129. pp 339–375.
  18. ^ Taylor, S. (1998). “The social being in social psychology.” In The Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th, ed. (Eds. Gilbert, D.T., Fiske, S., and Lindzey, G). pp. 58–95.
  19. ^ Gibb, C. A. (1969). “Leadership.” The Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol IV. pp. 205–282. Lindzey. G., & Aronson, E. (Eds.). Addison-Wesley: Reading, Mass
  20. ^ Altemeyer, B. Right-Wing Authoritarianism (1981) University of Manitoba Press. ISBN 978-0-88755-124-6.
  21. ^ Rachel Vengalia; Laura Maxwell (28 June 2021). “How We Conducted Our International Study on Right-Wing Authoritarianism”Morning Consult. Retrieved 3 Jan 2022.
  22. ^ Hetherington; Weiler (2009). Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, p. 59


  • Marc J. Hetherington; Jonathan D. Weiler (2009). Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-65165-6.

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The “Antidemocratic Personality” Revisited: A Cross-National Investigation of Working-Class Authoritarianism

Jaime L. Napier,John T. Jost

First published: 05 August 2008

Citations: 102

This research was supported in part by the NYU Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response (CCPR).

Read the full text





More than 60 years ago, psychologists identified a potential threat to democracy from within, namely the “antidemocratic personality” arising from the “authoritarian syndrome.” It was soon discovered that the problem of authoritarianism was especially acute among those who were low in education and income, and that it was associated with intolerance toward others.

However, several important questions were left unresolved. We revisit fundamental theoretical and empirical questions concerning the existence and nature of “working-class authoritarianism,” focusing especially on four psychological aspects of authoritarianism, namely, conventionalism, moral absolutism, obedience to authority, and cynicism.

In a cross-national investigation involving respondents from 19 democratic countries, we find that all four aspects of authoritarianism are indeed related to moral and ethnic intolerance. However, only obedience to authority and cynicism are especially prevalent among those who are low in socioeconomic status. Conventionalism and moral absolutism were significant predictors of economic conservatism, whereas obedience to authority and cynicism were not.

We find no support for Lipset’s (1960) claim that working-class authoritarianism would be associated with economic liberalism. Instead, we find that authoritarianism is linked to right-wing orientation in general and that intolerance mediates this relationship. Implications for electoral politics and political psychology are discussed.

Narcissism Is The Most Anti-Democratic Personality Trait

Narcissism Is The Most Anti-Democratic Personality Trait post image

Narcissists people prefer countries to be run by the military or strong leaders.

Narcissists are not fans of democracy, research finds.

People with narcissistic self-views prefer countries to be run by the military or strong leaders.

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Narcissists think that democratically elected governments are not good at maintaining order.

The results of the study are probably explained by the fact that narcissists do not tolerate views that differ from their own.

As the study’s title has it, narcissists believe that: “It’s my way or the highway.”

People with high self-esteem, though, tend to support democracies.

The study’s authors write:

“Narcissists have high feelings of self-worth, but tend to be defensive: They are easily threatened by criticisms or conflicting views.”

In contrast, non-narcissists tend to be willing to trust others and have higher self-esteem.

The conclusions come from surveys of 407 people in the US and 405 in Poland.

The results of both found that people with high self-esteem tended to support democracies.

Narcissists, though, who often have low self-esteem, did not generally support democracy.

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Dr Aleksandra Cichocka, study co-author, said:

“The jury is out on whether the new generations are becoming more narcissistic than previous ones, but it is important to monitor how societal changes can affect the self.

We need to make sure we are not fostering feelings of entitlement or expectations of special treatment.

In the end, these processes may have important implications for our social and political attitudes.”

About the author

Psychologist Jeremy Dean, PhD, is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:

→ Dr Dean’s bioTwitterFacebook and how to contact him.

The study was published in the British Journal of Social Psychology (Marchlewska et al., 2018).

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